‘Garbage into gold’: 8 1/2-mile-long, 2,002-acre Eastshore State Park is dedicated after more than 30 years of hard work

October 5, 2006 – Carolyn Jones

It took more than three decades, hundreds of people, a dozen public agencies and plenty of creative financing, but in the end they did it: They turned eight miles of garbage dumps into one of America’s largest urban parks.

“We spun garbage into gold,” said Berkeley Mayor Tom Bates on Wednesday at the official dedication of the Eastshore State Park, much of which has been completed.

About 200 people helped unveil the 8.5-mile strip of tidelands, meadows, beaches and trails that stretches from the Bay Bridge to Richmond and boasts sweeping views of Mount Tamalpais, the Golden Gate Bridge and the San Francisco skyline, as well as the East Bay hills.

“I remember 30 years ago looking at this space and thinking that development was inevitable,” said Patty Donald, a naturalist for the city of Berkeley. “But people said we have a right to say no to developers. This is proof that mere mortals can make a difference.”

The 2,002-acre park includes large chunks of park space linked by the Bay Trail. Among the landmarks are the Berkeley Meadow, the Emeryville Crescent, Albany Beach and South Richmond shoreline. A handful of projects remains to be finished.

Perhaps no one was more gratified to see the park dedicated than Sylvia McLaughlin, 89, who co-founded Save the Bay, an environmental group named for its cause, in 1961.

“We thought public access to the bay was a good thing, and back then there wasn’t any. It was measured in feet,” she said. “Today it’s measured in miles.”

McLaughlin, a UC Berkeley faculty wife, and two friends spent decades lobbying against bay fill and development. At the time, garbage dumps, vacant lots and free-form art projects lined the East Bay shoreline, and property owner Santa Fe Pacific Railroad (later Catellus Development Corp.) intended to develop it. Among the proposals were plans to build a hotel, homes, shopping centers and an airport.

But a turning point came in 1971 when the Berkeley City Council voted against a shopping center on the waterfront.

“The dream was born at that time,” said Assemblywoman Loni Hancock, D-Berkeley, a former Berkeley city councilwoman who is married to Bates. “It’s now one of the most beautiful spots on the face of the Earth, something we can leave for the generations that come after us.”

Starting in the mid-1970s, organizers started working on legislation, lawsuits, zoning changes, lobbying campaigns, propositions and bonds to acquire and restore the pollution-laden property. It was a complicated and daunting task to get the myriad, and often feuding, public agencies to cooperate, organizers said.

“You’ve got agencies that can’t even stand to be in the same room with each other, and here they were trying to do something together for the sake of the community at large. It was just phenomenal,” Donald, the Berkeley naturalist, said.

The park is owned by the State Parks but administered by the East Bay Regional Park District. Eventually it will include nature centers, more trails, sports fields and fewer non-native plants.

Already the park is home to a thriving wildlife scene. Birds include great blue herons, egrets, pelicans, owls, hawks, kingfishers, cormorants, osprey, geese and kites.

Skunks, possums, raccoons, gopher snakes, fence lizards, squirrels, voles, gophers, moles and possibly coyotes have moved in as well.

Park supporters said it’s remarkable — but imperative — to have such a wild stretch of open space amidst a densely populated urban area. More than 600,000 people live in the five cities adjacent to the park, and thousands more whiz by on Interstate 80 every day.

“Because of the cities and the size of the population, this is a place for people to go and be healed,” said Don Monahan, district superintendent of the State Parks. “It’s a chance to look out at the bay and see Mother Nature at her best.”


Source: The San Francisco Chronicle