Open Space and Recreation Element
The Open Space and Recreation Element establishes a policy framework and action program for the maintenance, improvement, and expansion of Berkeley’s open space and recreational facilities. The Element addresses open spaces, including parks, playgrounds, recreation centers, swim centers, public gardens, the Berkeley Marina, public paths and stairways, landscaped medians, and sidewalks. (Creeks and trees are addressed more specifically in the Environmental Management Element.) Maps at the end of this Element show the city’s current open space and recreational facilities, and neighborhood proximity to open space and recreational opportunities.
The provisions of this Element are closely related to those of the Land Use, Transportation, Environmental Management, and Disaster Preparedness and Safety Elements. The Element is informed by the following sources:
Berkeley Master Plan, 1977
The LMA Pathway Evaluation Report, 1993
Draft Aquatic Park Master Plan, 1990
Berkeley Waterfront Plan Amendment to the City’s Master Plan and Berkeley Waterfront Specific Plan, 1986
The Playing Fields Study, 1998
Current planning efforts underway for the Berkeley Marina
Few of Berkeley’s public assets are as highly treasured and as heavily used as the City’s open spaces. Berkeley’s open spaces include public parks and recreational facilities, the Marina, public plazas, sidewalks, public paths and stairways, landscaped medians, the University of California campus, UC Botanical Gardens, Strawberry Canyon Recreation Facilities, the Ecological Study Area, the Berkeley Unified School District grounds, community gardens, creeks and other water features, and some privately owned outdoor spaces, such as plazas. Berkeley’s parks and other open spaces serve as places of recreation and beauty, as community gathering places, as centers of ecological learning (e.g., Shorebird Nature Center and Strawberry Creek), and as reflections of our culture and history (e.g., the Ohlone Mural and the Rose Garden). The community also benefits from nearby regional parks owned and operated by the East Bay Regional Park District such as Tilden Regional Park and Claremont Canyon Regional Preserve, located on the eastern border of the city. A third regional park, Eastshore State Park, currently in the planning stages, promises to be a spectacular addition to the city’s open space lands.
Berkeley's Parks and Waterfront Department maintains the City's open space through its Forestry, Landscape Maintenance, and Marina operations. It is the mission of the Department to enhance the beauty and quality of life throughout Berkeley by providing safe, attractive, and well-maintained landscape areas, urban forests, recreational resources, and Marina and waterfront environments using ecologically sound practices, and to involve and engage the community in the implementation of this mission.
The Growing Parkland Supply
Since 1977, the City has made significant increases in the amount and type of open space available to Berkeley citizens. Berkeley has more than doubled its total parks acreage, from 110 to 230 total acres since 1977. As a result, the community achieved its 1977 Master Plan goal of two park acres per 1,000 people, more than double the acres-to-persons ratio of 1977. With the addition of the new Harrison Park, and the inclusion of the Bay Trail, Eastshore State Park, and Tilden Regional Park, the acres of parkland available to city residents increases to over 10 acres per 1,000 residents. If the 198-acre Claremont Canyon Regional Reserve is added, the figure increases to over 12 acres per 1,000 residents.
The maps at the end of this Element show the location
of the city’s existing park and recreational resources and indicate a neighborhood’s
relative proximity to them.
Parkland Added Since 1977
Cedar - Rose Park
Cesar Chavez Park
Grizzly Peak Park
George Florence Park
King School Park
Strawberry Creek Park
Thousand Oaks School Park
Total added since 1977
The Berkeley community, the Parks and Recreation Commission, the Waterfront Commission, Adopt-a-Park groups, and the citywide Berkeley Partners for Parks play key roles in maintaining and enhancing the City’s parks and open spaces. In 1974, the citizens of Berkeley passed Measure Y, a five-year property tax override to acquire, develop, and renovate parks.1 Measure Y funded acquisition of over 19 acres of new parkland and enabled the City to develop new recreational facilities on property owned by the Berkeley Unified School District in neighborhoods that were underserved by park facilities. Under the original agreement, the City and the School District agreed to share maintenance responsibilities for several renovated School District recreational facilities. Currently the City is responsible for the maintenance of Thousand Oaks School Park and Martin Luther King Jr. School Park and the district is responsible for maintenance at the Le Conte School, John Muir School, Washington School, Malcolm X School, and Rosa Parks School facilities. Many of the School District properties have been recently renovated, but historically the District has not been able to satisfactorily maintain these public facilities.
In 1986, the citizens of Berkeley passed Measure L, ensuring that all existing City open space would be preserved for open space use.2 Also in 1986 the citizens of Berkeley passed Measure Q, establishing the waterfront as an area primarily for recreation and providing public access to the waterfront.3 Berkeley residents were instrumental in the subsequent acquisition of 170 acres on the Berkeley waterfront for the future Eastshore State Park, the recent reorganization of the City’s Parks and Waterfront Department, the acquisition of the Santa Fe right-of-way in 1978, and the acquisition of the "Hearst Strip" and its development into Ohlone Park.
Challenge #1: Parkland and Facility Maintenance
The price of possessing such an extensive and diverse open space system is the cost of maintaining it. The greatest challenge facing the community over the next 20 years will be to secure adequate funding to care for existing open space resources. The City of Berkeley currently maintains 52 parks and associated buildings, parking lots, and play areas, 21 turf medians, 75 developed paths, 40 undeveloped paths, and 1,000 slips at the Berkeley Marina that together total over 300 acres of land.
The rising cost of maintaining the City’s open space resources is due to several factors, including:
A. Each new park or park improvement, such as a play structure, adds to the cost of maintaining the overall parks system.
B. Children’s play areas, tot lots and recreation opportunities for middle and high-school-age young people throughout the city need to be developed, improved, or replaced.
C. Many of the playgrounds, ball fields, park equipment and grounds are beyond their expected useful life and require repair or replacement.
D. Several new federal mandates establishing playground safety and ADA accessibility standards require facilities to be rehabilitated.
E. Designated historically significant parks, such as the Berkeley Rose Garden and Civic Center Park, require significant restoration work.
F. Maturing street trees and park landscaping require an ongoing cycle of removal and replacement. The Parks and Waterfront Forestry Unit plants more than 500 new or replacement trees each year.
G. The City’s restriction against the use of herbicides, pesticides, and gas-powered leaf blowers requires labor-intensive techniques to maintain parks and street medians.
The City’s primary revenue source for maintenance of parks and open space is the Parks Tax. In 2000, the voters of Berkeley approved an increase in the Parks Tax to help cover the cost of maintaining the growing supply of parkland in Berkeley. By 2002, the Parks Tax is expected to generate over $7.2 million annually. However, it is expected that these funds will be needed primarily for maintenance of planned and existing park facilities and will not be sufficient to cover building maintenance, lighting improvements, major capital improvements, or property acquisition. The Parks Tax is used for all City parks and street median maintenance and some capital improvements in parks (including some which are in the Marina Enterprise Zone, resulting in some overlap between the two funds). The Marina Enterprise Fund is used for all areas within the Marina Enterprise Zone, including for parks, open space, and street median maintenance in that zone. General funds supplement capital improvement projects in City parks and at the Marina.
Maintaining the Marina and waterfront infrastructure is crucial to the continued successful operation of these facilities. The nature of the capital improvement work at the Marina consists of both ongoing, routine maintenance such as replacement of pilings, roadways, restrooms, etc., and large-scale improvements such as dock replacement and dredging. Though the Marina Enterprise Fund generated approximately $3 million in 2000, only about $325,000 per year is available from the Fund for capital improvements to replace an aging infrastructure. The Marina Fund has historically been balanced by deferring capital improvement expenditures. The General Fund does not usually provide funding toward the capital needs of the Marina. The City is currently finalizing a Draft Marina Plan that establishes improvement priorities for the Berkeley Marina.
Challenge #2: Responding to the Changing Needs of the Community
In addition to the challenge of maintaining the growing supply of parkland, the community also faces the challenge of adapting or increasing its park and open space resources to meet changing needs and priorities. For example, due to Title 9; to the increasing participation of girls in organized sports, and to mushrooming youth participation in soccer, softball, field hockey, and lacrosse; the demand for youth playing fields has greatly increased. Responding in part to these conditions, the City Council approved development of new playing fields at the Harrison Street site in West Berkeley in 1999.
Improving and expanding access to existing park facilities has also been identified as a major issue. Access to many of the City’s largest park areas, such as Aquatic Park and the Waterfront, is often difficult for pedestrians, bicyclists, the disabled, and transit riders. Some parks and recreational facilities are not adequately accessible to the disabled. Recent improvements include improved pathways and signs directing people to and through Aquatic Park; disabled access improvements at a number of City facilities; the I-80 overcrossing (a pedestrian and bicycle bridge from Aquatic Park to the waterfront); and the recently reconstructed, fully accessible F and G docks at the Berkeley Marina. Active volunteer community groups are also working to rehabilitate and improve the historic pathway system in the hills, which would improve access to parks for hill residents and serve as a recreational pathway system, encourage walking rather than driving, and provide emergency evacuation routes.
There is also a growing demand for additional community gardening sites. There are currently 17 community gardens in Berkeley. The City owns five of the sites, the Berkeley Unified School District owns four, the University of California owns two, and the rest are owned by a variety of nonprofits and private organizations.
In summary, a number of needed open space and recreation facilities improvements have been identified:
A. The supply of playing fields for youth sports needs to be improved and expanded.
B. Children’s play areas, tot lots, and recreation opportunities for middle-school and high-school age young people throughout the city need to be developed, improved, or replaced.
C. The City’s recreation centers are suffering from deferred maintenance and are in need of improvements.
D. Skateboard parks.
E. Aquatic Park improvements are necessary to reduce freeway noise, improve access, improve water quality, and address safety concerns.
F. Several open space and recreation facilities, including certain facilities for the disabled (e.g., Therapy Pool), need access improvements.
G. The historic public pathway network throughout Berkeley needs repair and rehabilitation.
H. Additional space is desired for community gardens, farmers markets, and cultural events.
I. There have been calls for changes to park facilities and enforcement of park rules to discourage the homeless from using City parks as a place to sleep, cook meals, and bathe.
Challenge #3: Funding the Community’s Open Space and Recreational Priorities
Since adoption of the 1977 Open Space, Conservation and Recreation Element, funding for open space maintenance and improvement has become less dependable. In 1978, the voters of California passed Proposition 13, which limited property taxes and resulted in dramatic decreases in park funding. Since the passage of Proposition 13, Berkeley has attempted to fund park improvements and park expansion through a variety of different funding mechanisms that combine local, State, and Federal funding sources. Although the City has been able to make significant improvements to the overall park system with this patchwork of funding sources, funding for routine park maintenance and timely capital improvements to existing parks has often been inadequate. Most State and regional and Federal funding sources are not available for maintenance of existing parks.
Thus, although the City has been able to increase the supply of parkland through these sources, the increasing parkland supply, the loss of a dependable funding source for routine maintenance, and increasingly high usage by youth sports have often resulted in increasing maintenance costs and deferred maintenance. Ongoing maintenance of existing parks is funded from the Parks Tax (which replaced the City’s Landscape Assessment District in 1997). This tax generates revenues through a property tax based on a rate approved by Berkeley voters. These funds are used almost exclusively for ongoing maintenance of City’s parks, street medians, and street trees. To increase this maintenance funding source will require either an increase in the Parks Tax, which must be approved by the Berkeley voters, or an increase in General Fund expenditures, which will require a corresponding decrease in General Fund expenditures in some other services.
Due to the limited local funding for park maintenance and expansion, Federal and State grants and State or local bond measures are essential funding sources. Measure AA, a State bond administered by EBRPD, provided $3.1 million in funding to the City for improvements in its parks during the 1990s. The last of the Measure AA funding was expended by 2000. The Public Employees Retirement System (PERS) refund, which was issued in 1994, enabled a $1.5 million one-time funding for park improvements in the 1990s but is now fully committed. The State Gas Tax Fund provides money for roadway landscaping and irrigation improvements. The State Environmental Enhancement Mitigation Program (EEMP) grants fund highway development mitigation projects. Federal Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) money funds park improvements. In March 2000, the voters of California approved a new State Park Bond (Proposition 12), which will provide $1.3 million for local park improvements as well as the opportunity for Berkeley to compete for additional grants for park improvements.
Policy Background Conclusions
Given the physical, social, and financial changes that have occurred since 1977, the General Plan Open Space and Recreation policies focus the community’s future efforts toward:
A. Maintaining existing park and open space resources, and identifying and securing additional financial resources for open space maintenance and capital improvements.
B. Identifying and funding improvements and enhancements to existing parks that will address the changing needs of the community or enhance the ability of existing parks to meet the community’s open space needs.
C. Providing new parks or facilities for those segments of the community that are currently underserved, and identifying and securing additional financial resources for open space expansion.
D. Supporting and encouraging citizen involvement in the planning and maintenance of the city’s open space resources.
The policies and actions of the Open Space and Recreation Element are intended to achieve the following three objectives:
Preserve, maintain, and repair the city’s existing open space and recreational resources and facilities.
Expand open space and recreational resources to meet the evolving open space and recreational needs of all segments of this community through land acquisitions and improvements.
Increase funding for parkland, recreational facilities, and open space maintenance, improvement, and expansion.
Policies and Actions
Preservation, Maintenance, and Repair
Policy OS-1 Preservation
Existing open space and parks shall be maintained and preserved for public park and open space use.
Measure L, passed by the Berkeley voters in 1986, requires a vote of the people to use or to develop a public open space or park for any purpose other than public park or open space, unless a State of Emergency has been declared.
A. Consider revisions to the Zoning Ordinance to include open space zoning districts for all designated open space areas in the city.
Policy OS-2 Maintenance, Repair, and Enhancements
Within the context of open space resource allocations, give highest priority to maintaining and improving the City’s existing network of open space and recreation facilities.
The City’s extensive open space network requires ongoing maintenance. Due to funding constraints, required maintenance has often been deferred, which results in higher maintenance and replacement costs. Maintenance of existing resources consists of; ongoing maintenance (upkeep), restoration of resources (repair), and improvements to maximize or improve utilization of existing facilities (improvements).
A. Repair recreation centers and swim centers.
B. Continue to repair or replace unsafe or inaccessible play equipment.
C. Restore the network of public paths and historic street features, such as gateways, lighting, and stairways.
D. Improve access for the disabled to park and open space facilities.
E. Regularly resurface basketball and tennis courts.
F. Regularly maintain and restore park landscaping.
G. Where appropriate, add lights to existing sports fields and improve drainage, where necessary.
H. When available and financially feasible, acquire small amounts of property adjacent to existing public facilities to improve their utility.
I. Improve enforcement of park use rules and regulations.
J. Establish a plan for maintaining the existing infrastructure at the Berkeley Marina, including maintenance and replacement of docks, piers, bulkheads, dry dock storage areas, restrooms, and utility systems (water, sewage, electricity etc.), and dredging to maintain adequate marina water depth.
K. Establish a funding plan that prioritizes repair and maintenance of existing open space and recreational facilities.
Policy OS-3 Volunteerism
Encourage community involvement and volunteerism in park and open space maintenance and improvement as a means to leverage local funds and improve park and open space.
Community involvement in the creation and maintenance of our parks is an important component of this Open Space and Recreation Element. Berkeley’s level of neighborhood park activism is high and continues to grow.
A. Continue to encourage and support the Parks and Open Space Mini Grant Program and the Adopt a Park Program.
B. Continue to encourage public-private partnerships to develop and maintain public playing fields and other open spaces and recreational facilities.
Policy OS-4 Working with Other Agencies
Work with the Berkeley Unified School District, the University of California, the East Bay Municipal Utility District, and the East Bay Regional Park District to improve, preserve, maintain, and renovate their open space and recreation facilities.
A. Work with the University of California to identify and pursue opportunities for active-use (playing fields and courts) recreation space serving University students, particularly those students who are Berkeley residents in densely developed neighborhoods near the UC campus.
B. Work with the Berkeley Unified School District to:
1. Uphold the District’s responsibilities with respect to maintaining jointly administered open space facilities such as the Measure Y parks.
2. Identify ways to expand community use of the District’s recreational facilities.
3. Repair or replace the warm water pool.
4. Investigate the feasibility of developing an additional on-campus swimming pool for use by students at Berkeley High and the general public.
C. Work with the East Bay Municipal Utility District to increase opportunities for recreational use of District facilities.
Expansion of Open Space and Recreational Resources
Policy OS-5 Community Participation
Encourage community involvement in every aspect of park and open space acquisition, design, and construction. (Also see the Citizen Participation Element and Land Use Policy LU-5.)
Policy OS-6 New Open Space and Recreational Resources
Create new open space and recreational resources throughout Berkeley.
A. Identify and prioritize open space expansion opportunities in neighborhoods that are underserved or not easily accessible to existing park and recreational facilities.
B. Convene a community planning process to determine the final use of the remaining 14 blocks of City-owned land on the Santa Fe Right-of-Way. The community planning process shall consider public open space use (i.e., neighborhood parks, community gardens, and/or bicycle and pedestrian paths) as the highest priority use for the remaining vacant land and new affordable housing development as the next highest priority use.
C. Develop joint-use agreements with other agencies such as the University of California, the Berkeley Unified School District, the Bay Area Rapid Transit District, and regional open space agencies to increase public access to public lands.
D. Increase the supply of playing fields for youth sports.
E. Establish spaces for art, music, and cultural activities. (Also see Economic Development and Employment Policy ED-11, Urban Design and Preservation Policy UD-34, and Land Use Policy LU-19.)
Policy OS-7 Serving Disadvantaged Populations
Within the context of open space resource allocations for new or expanded facilities, give high priority to providing additional facilities for populations that are disadvantaged or underserved.
A. Ensure that park planning processes consider the needs of low-income residents and residents with limited English.
B. Ensure that park facilities and recreational activities are available at low costs to low-income residents and accessible by public transportation.
C. Ensure that new open space, recreational, or cultural uses are compatible with the other vital community priorities for disadvantaged populations in Berkeley.
Policy OS-8 Community Gardens
Encourage and support community gardens as important open space resources that build communities and provide a local food source. (Also see Environmental Management Policy EM-34.)
A. Encourage neighborhood groups to organize, design, and manage community gardens particularly where space is available that is not suitable for housing, parks, pathways, or recreation facilities. Ensure that garden plots are allocated according to a fair and equitable formula.
B. Require all publicly subsidized community gardens to maintain regular "open to the public" hours.
C. Include community gardens in the planning for the Santa Fe Right-of-Way.
D. Pursue community gardens in high-density areas with little private open space suitable for gardening.
E. Increase support for community gardens through partnerships with other government agencies, particularly the Berkeley Unified School District, neighborhood groups, businesses, and civic and gardening organizations.
F. Support school-based gardens and the involvement of youth in growing and preparing their own food.
Policy OS-9 Aquatic Park
Make Aquatic Park more accessible and usable as a neighborhood park. (Also see Environmental Management Policies EM-28 and EM-45.)
A. Install an effective and attractive noise and visual freeway barrier with landscaping for Aquatic Park.
B. Remove the I-80 Potter Street on-ramp from Aquatic Park. (Also see Transportation Policy T-29.)
C. Provide new safe pedestrian and bicycle railroad crossings, particularly at the southern end of the site, for improved access and circulation from nearby neighborhoods to Aquatic Park.
D. Improve the bicycle path around the park.
E. Encourage lessees of City buildings in the park to serve local youth.
F. Explore opportunities to expand the park.
Policy OS-10 Access Improvements
Improve transit, bicycle, disabled, and pedestrian access to and between open space and recreation facilities, including regional facilities such as the Berkeley Marina, University of California open space, East Bay Regional Park District lands, the Eastshore State Park, and recreational facilities in other cities. (Also see Transportation Policies T-29, T-42, T-47, and T-50.)
A. Develop and maintain a citywide pedestrian and bicycle network that links open space and recreation facilities with bicycle and walking paths along tree-lined streets, publicly owned pathways, creeks, and other greenways.
B. Maintain opportunities to eventually complete a Codornices Creek Greenway from the Bay to the hills.
C. Increase shuttle and weekend transit service and weekend street closures to improve access to recreational and open space.
D. Continue to improve pedestrian and bicycle access to the waterfront and Berkeley Marina.
E. Attempt to establish a network of bicycle lanes and paths, physically separated from automobile traffic, to provide safe bicycle access especially for children to all schools, recreation sites, and city open spaces.
Policy OS-11 Public Spaces
Encourage innovative use of public plazas, sidewalks, and temporary street closures as open space or for recreational or cultural events. (Also see Land Use Policy LU-20.)
A. Design and improve public streets, parking lots, and plazas to provide public spaces for street fairs, festivals and other gatherings.
Policy OS-12 Adjacent Uses
Ensure that land adjacent to parks is sensitively developed so that shade on the park is minimized, safe access is maintained, and views are not significantly reduced. (Also see Land Use Policy LU-28 and Urban Design and Preservation Policies UD-31 and UD-32.)
Policy OS-13 Waterfront Open Space and Recreational Facilities
Implement the 1986 Waterfront Plan policies to establish the waterfront as an area primarily for recreational, open space, and environmental uses, with preservation and enhancement of beaches, marshes, and other natural habitats. (Also see Land Use Policies LU-43 and LU-44.)
A. Work collaboratively with the East Bay Regional Park District, Albany, Emeryville, and Oakland to plan and complete the new Eastshore State Park as part of a continuous East Bay shoreline open space and recreational area.
B. Assure that new development along the shoreline recognizes its unique location, considers sensitive natural resources, and maintains adequate shoreline access and views.
C. Maintain Cesar Chavez Park as a City-owned park.
D. Complete the Berkeley portion of the Bay Trail and connections to Cesar Chavez Park and links to the Berkeley Marina.
Policy OS-14 Regional Open Space
Coordinate with regional open space agencies such as the East Bay Regional Park District, neighboring cities, and private sector and nonprofit institutions to maintain, improve, and expand the region’s open space network.
Policy OS-15 Funding for Maintenance
Pursue innovative sources of local funding for open space and recreational facility maintenance and capital improvements.
Local funding for renovation and maintenance of existing facilities is limited. With the exception of the Marina, ongoing maintenance of existing parks is funded from the Parks Tax (which replaced the City’s Landscape Assessment District in 1997). This tax generates revenues through a property tax based on a rate approved by Berkeley voters. These funds are used almost exclusively for ongoing maintenance of parks, street medians, and urban forest; therefore, funds for open space capital improvements or acquisition are limited.
A. Pursue donated funds and local corporate contributions.
B. Ensure that new development provides for the open space and recreational facility needs of the future users of the development.
C. Ensure that all proposals to add new parkland or expand facilities are accompanied by a realistic funding plan for maintenance and ongoing capital improvements.
D. Consider voter-approved special bond or tax measures for parkland acquisition and maintenance.
E. Pursue all available sources of local funding for Marina improvements and maintenance including berthing fees, ground leases, and funds generated by local nonprofits.
F. Consider a range of public/private financing strategies for Marina maintenance and improvements. Strategies could include studying the feasibility of new, appropriately scaled, water-related, revenue-generating uses, or a City-owned commercial venue, sited so that it will not compromise public access or environmentally sensitive areas.
G. Review existing fees for programs and services and where appropriate, raise fees to be compatible with those of other jurisdictions.
H. To help ensure adequate funds for capital improvements at the Marina, the City should maintain a Marina capital reserve fund and whenever possible set funds aside each year for future improvements to Marina capital projects. Expenditures from the committed reserve should be made in consultation with the Waterfront Commission.
Policy OS-16 Outside Funding Sources
Actively pursue State and Federal funding and grant opportunities.
A. Pursue all available sources of outside funding for Marina improvements and maintenance including Department of Boating and Waterways loans and grants, State Park Bond funds, State Water Bond funds, and grants from organizations such as the Regional Water Quality Board and the Coastal Conservancy.
Figure 17. Open Space, Recreational Facilities and other Public Lands (.pdf)
Figure 18. Open Space Access Map (.pdf)
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 Berkeley Municipal Code Section 7.08 et seq.
 Berkeley Municipal Code Section 6.42 et seq.
 Berkeley Municipal Code Section 11.56 et seq.