SAN LEANDRO COUNCIL CALLS FOR REPORT ON TWO HARBOR BASIN PLANS; ONE WITH BOATS, ONE WITHOUT
By Steven Tavares
The future of boating and other motorized watercraft hit another patch of turbulent seas after city staff attempted to bypass members of the Marina Citizen Action Committee over a report on alternatives for its harbor basin.
The San Leandro City Council was handed a 64-page study of alternatives for the Marina’s Harbor Basin earlier this month. Members of the nearly two year standing citizen action committee and a few councilmembers were upset the study was not first presented to the 32-person body.
City staff contends the direction of the harbor basin has always been under the purview of the council, while recommendation of the entire Marina development has coming under the guidance of the CAC. Councilman Jim Prola told city staff he was not pleased the council was presented with the report instead of first passing the through the appointed committee.
Cynthia Battenberg, business development director for the city, said the Marina’s developer Cal-Coast has expressed hesitance with attracting investors to the project without a plan for the harbor. The council asked Mar. 21 for the developer to draft two feasibility studies on two of the four alternatives described in the report and is due to discuss the issue sometime in April.
One plan, described as a Marina Park in the report, is the most dynamic of the alternatives and likely the most expensive. It contains a downscaled 185-slip marina in the eastern portion of the basin, a beach area across the harbor near the proposed hotel/convention center with a stepped shoreline for concerts and other events along with various marsh islands in the western half. The plan would still call for funding to dredge the harbor. The lack of financing for regular dredging has long been a difficulty for the Marina and in many ways has facilitated the need for cheaper alternative plans.
The harbor basin and channel leading to the bay has not been fully dredged to just over the prescribed seven feet since 1997. A series of quick fixes have been the hallmark of the city’s attempt to run the Marina on the cheap. The basin was dredged to five feet just two years ago with federal funding obtained by Sen. Dianne Feinstein, but that has just put off any clear cut decision on the future of the Marina and whether sailboats and small yachts will travail San Leandro’s shoreline.
There has been some doubt whether there is a market among San Leandrans and boat owners in surrounding areas for more boating options in the East Bay. The report says 40 percent of the existing harbor is in use, showing the existence of interest, although it is not known whether the city’s residents partake much in the harbor’s benefits. The city produces over $600,000 in revenue from the entire Marina.
Mulford Gardens resident Audrey Albers, who sits on the citizen action committee, lamented the report did not mention restoring the marina to its historical capacity for boats. “We need to preserve it. Advertise it,“ she said. Albers says she believes most San Leandrans prefer the marina teeming with boats and the city has failed to advertise the benefits of the area. “You can’t run a business without maintenance in 14 years,” she said referring to its last full dredging. “No wonder it’s deteriorating.”
Councilwoman Joyce Starosciak, who grew up in the nearby Marina Faire neighborhood and represents Washington Manor, called the report’s recommendations “sad news.”
“We need to look for any possible way to save some boats there,” said Starosciak. “We need some boats to call it a marina.” Prola, who represents marina constituents, say the neighborhoods want boats at the harbor basin. He also argues their inclusion would provide for a more lucrative development for the city. The price tag for the Marina Park could run between $33-$44 millon over 15 years, by far the most expensive option.
The problem of financial sustainability at the Marina has plague San Leandro since the shoreline’s inception in the 1960s. Former Mayor Tony Santos said last year, the city has never figured out how to help the Marina pay for itself. Any signs of development at the Marina, though, is still at least five years away, said Mike Bakaldin, the city’s public works director.
A cheaper alternative, called the Aquatic Park, is a further downscaled plan similar to the more costly Marina Park. In addition, the Aquatic Park plan will be further studied in the next few months. Included in the plan is an emphasis on the appearance of canoes and kayaks in a natural setting with the harbor reclaimed into a series of wildlife islands and marsh areas. Several pedestrian walkways will added to create vistas across the harbor, according to the report. Although this plan also includes an initial smaller scale dredging, the waters will eventually do without further clearance. This plan would cost between $15-20 million in the short term. A plan to do nothing and allow the basin to naturally become a mud flats is by far the cheapest alternatives, but likely concern possible investors from the project. Another plan, called a Nature Park, is another scaled down plan featuring educational amenities geared towards outdoor enthusiasts and children.
Aside from possible amenities added to any possible incarnation of the harbor basin, the CAC is believed to be leaning towards an overlapping plan for the Marina that includes office buildings, market rate housing, two additional restaurants and cafes overlooking the bay and a hotel and convention center along with the sprawling patches of open green space.