Berkeley parks

Plan for 2 electric ferries, rebuilding Berkeley pier could cost $ 122 million

The city chose a concept called “the sword” as their preferred vision for a new Berkeley pier. Credit: City of Berkeley

Berkeley Marina may one day be home to two electric ferries and a reconstructed sword-shaped pier, but the exact funding for the $ 122 million project remains an open question.

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Earlier this month, council members and the public heard the latest report from city staff and the San Francisco Bay Water Emergency Transportation Authority (WETA) on how the Berkeley Marina could one day be transformed.

“The marina has a lot of challenges and this shouldn’t be a panacea,” said Christina Erickson, deputy director of Berkeley parks, but a new pier and ferry service will be an “important part of the solution”.

The December 7 working session was the first presentation to Berkeley City Council of the preferred concept for the city’s extensive ferry dock project. The city closed its historic pier in 2015 due to structural issues.

“I’m all on board for the sword,” said board member Lori Droste. She said the concept as presented balances many different needs and “really ticks all the boxes.”

See detailed staff report and presentation for more information

Staff held numerous public meetings throughout 2021 and also conducted a community survey to determine the length of the new pier and its location. The city said it ultimately chose a location – the same spot as the old pier – and a size – 1,480 feet long and 22 feet wide – that took these factors into account. A key issue was trying to minimize impacts on existing recreation users, said staff, such as windsurfers and boaters.

The plan also includes a new ferry terminal and two ferry docks, so one electric ferry could charge while the other is running. There would be benches, a public plaza, and more educational opportunities, such as interpretive signs.

On the land side, the aim is to improve “multimodal” access for pedestrians, cyclists and buses. Ferry parking will be limited to a 250-car parking lot to minimize impacts elsewhere in the marina, staff said.

Town-side upgrades are expected to include a new water access point for recreation, a public shoreline, fish cleaning tables, bike lockers, a seating area and more. The goal is to “reactivate” the area, staff said, and make it safer and more enjoyable for everyone.

“The waterfront is a tired and scary place for many,” said Ali Endress, waterfront manager. The pier and ferry would be “another demonstration of the maintenance of this waterfront”.

“Sometimes it takes something huge to trigger a difficult or necessary change,” Endress said.

The current conceptual ferry schedule calls for 14 weekday trips from Berkeley to San Francisco: eight rush-bound trips in the morning and six in the afternoon. It would involve two ships and four crews. Wait times, the time between ferries, are currently set at 35 minutes to almost an hour. There would be less travel on weekends.

City and WETA staff said waterfront parking will need to be carefully managed. WETA’s current model estimates that about 31% of commuters will travel to the new Berkeley ferry terminal, while 15% each will either carpool or use a “kiss and ride” approach. The city will need to cap ferry parking and have an active parking management plan, along with strong programs that provide incentives for biking, walking and transit.

“We know parking is a problem,” said Bill Hurrell, WETA consultant. Encouraging fewer people to drive, he said, “requires a proactive approach”.

City staff said 88% of those polled earlier this year were in favor of the concept of a new ferry. But people have raised a number of concerns, including about parking and whether there will be room for leisure users and commuters. The city’s position is that all needs can be met with the existing parking lot.

Community members also questioned whether the ferry service was a good use of public funds, whether the city should put the project on hold until its overall marina planning process is complete, and whether the preferred concept plan would even be authorized given the current regulations.

“I don’t see how this thing can possibly overcome regulatory challenges. The numbers just don’t work for parking, ”said Paul Kamen, frequent user of the waterfront (and occasional Berkeleyside contributor). Kamen said too much of the burden was placed on recreational users rather than commuters: “It’s completely upside down. “

Others questioned ridership models, economic estimates and parking plans.

“This is a park, the land you’re talking about only exists because it was filled for recreation,” said Jim McGrath, longtime Berkeley Parks Commissioner. “It was not filled for the parking lot of a ferry terminal. My big concern is that the level of subsidies is outrageous.

Another Parks Commissioner, Claudia Kawczynska, said she had been a fan of the plans initially, but that had changed: “My enthusiasm not only waned, but was replaced by skepticism and mistrust.

Almost all of the public comment came from people concerned about how the city’s plans will play out as well as the potential disproportionate impacts on recreational users.

“There are a lot of explanations to be made,” said speaker Jeffrey Finn. “I don’t think you should rush into this.

Rushing into anything seems unlikely given the financial constraints of the project. Staff said it could be six years before the ferry service could be operational.

“The big question is how can we pay for all of this? Said Roger Miller, analyst and project manager for the City of Berkeley. “It’s a very big project.

Regional Measure 3, the new Bay Bridge toll, is likely to help but is currently blocked in court. The legal challenge is expected to be resolved in 2022, Miller said. Other potential funding sources include municipal funds, the BB measure in Alameda County, Caltrans programs, and federal infrastructure funds from the Jobs Act Passenger Ferry Grant.

That last bucket “might be the biggest of all,” Miller said.

Council member Rashi Kesarwani said the city should be “aggressive” in seeking state and federal funding: “I know this is a significant price.”

Kesarwani also noted how she and council member Terry Taplin – whose districts span West Berkeley – had asked the state for a $ 15 million allocation for Berkeley in the next budget cycle. News about this will likely only come in May or June at the earliest, and maybe not until October 2022.

Council members said the new ferry could play an important role in Berkeley’s disaster preparedness efforts, such as in the event of an evacuation or if something were to happen to the Bay Bridge.

This is “one of the most exciting projects we have going on,” said Susan Wengraf, board member.

Council member Rigel Robinson, a frequent marina at Berkeley Marina, said he hopes the city will prioritize minimizing impacts to existing park users as plans are developed. . He also denounced language in the staff report acknowledging that the restoration of the pier has inherent value to the community, separate from any ferry plan.

“I am a huge fan of the sword,” he said. “I’m 100% sure this will make me cry the first time I step onto a new jetty and get on this big and beautiful boat.”

Robinson said he has spoken to many users of the marina who have told him they are concerned that the project will “remove the future of the marina” as a nature-centered space for recreational activities.

“They are right to be worried,” he said. But Robinson also said he believes staff take their concerns seriously.

Berkeley Parks Director Scott Ferris told Berkeleyside on Thursday he agreed.

“We love our users. We understand their problems and try to do our best to alleviate them, ”he said. “At the same time, we had to finish the project. And that’s what we’ve done.

As part of its next steps, the city is working to increase AC shuttle and transit service to the marina, and step up parking management to encourage alternative modes of transportation. Authorities have already expressed support for launching paid parking at the marina for everyone except short-term users, but no plan has yet been adopted.

Over the next few months, the board is expected to review the final version of the Preferred Concept. At some point, managers will decide how much of the project to fund in the first stage.

On December 7, Mayor Jesse Arreguín said he knew the Berkeley Marina is a fragile place that must be protected. But he said the new projects will be a “game changer for the waterfront.”

“People are concerned about change” said Arreguin. “It’s understandable.”