Tag Archives: Beltline

Parks are for boys and girls

As a fan of open space recreation, I would really be remiss if I didn’t put in my two cents on the low-boiling issue of the Boys and Girls Club‘s request to receive more than half of the $3.6 million Measure WW money allocated to Alameda, for a new facility. People have called this a “difficult” issue to take sides on because who would argue against the goodness of the Boys and Girls Club to the young people of Alameda? However, the issue is not about whether the purpose is noble or not. It’s about what people thought they were voting on, when they did. I know I thought it was for making parks out of those great hills and shorelines we are lucky to have in the East Bay, and for maintaining those parks. Rereading the arguments for and against the measure confirms that—here’s an excerpt:

With Alameda and Contra Costa Counties’ populations growing rapidly, Measure WW is needed to preserve our vanishing open space, available parklands, and shoreline.

Measure WW extends the existing parks bond measure passed by voters in 1988. The 2008 bond extension will not increase your taxes. It has bipartisan support.

The original 1988 ballot measure made possible our current system of parks, thousands of acres of protected open space, and hundreds of miles of trails throughout Alameda and Contra Costa Counties.

All of the revenue from 2008’s Measure WW is local and will stay in our two counties to protect and preserve our parks.

25% of the revenue will fund city parks and recreation departments.

75% will fund regional park acquisitions, open space preservation, new parks and trails for walking, hiking, and biking, environmental maintenance, the rehabilitation of aging park facilities, and wildlife habitat restoration.

Measure WW is also crucial for environmental sustainability. The vegetation in our Regional Parks absorbs the same amount of carbon dioxide that is produced by over 80,000 cars. Voting yes on WW will help us fight global climate change at the local level.

Measure WW will also help protect and renew our urban creeks and ponds, which will enhance the quality of drinking water for our communities.

Note that the only time facilities are mentioned is in “rehabilitation of aging park facilities”—and this is something the city had been planning to use the funds for, before the Boys and Girls Club maneuvered upfront.

Let me be clear: I like the B&G Club of Alameda, and I want them to do well and build their new facility. I don’t think they should do that with EBRPD funds. Step up fundraising? Grant writing? Appeal to corporate partners? I’ll kick in a donation too—if they withdraw their application and let the money go where it was intended to—public parks and recreation.

Here are some of the other projects that would or could be funded instead:

• Resurfacing of Washington Park Basketball courts and tennis courts
• Renovation of Littlejohn Park Recreation Center
• Renovation of Woodstock Park Recreation Center
• Replacement of Krusi Park Recreation Center
• Renovation of Godfrey Park Play Area
• Develop the Beltline property as a park
• Acquisition of Collins property for Estuary park

By the way, Alameda has 2.1 acres of open space per 1,000 residents, while most California cities typically strive for 3 to 6 acres per 1,000 residents (according to this General Plan Amendment document).

To express your views on the matter, write to East Bay Regional park District Grant Manager, Jeff Rasmussen at jrasmussen@ebparks.org, and copy Alameda City manager Anne Marie Gallant at agallant@ci.alameda.ca.us.

How does your forest grow?

A couple nights ago on BBC they had a piece about the urban forests of Rio de Janeiro (Tijuca and Pedra Branca). They are not what we normally mean by urban forest—a collection of all trees throughout a city. They are real forests, the kind where wild, endangered animals live and native plants grow wild and free. What’s interesting is that while they both are claimed to be the world’s largest, one is natural (having become incorporated into the city as it grew), and the other is entirely hand-planted, thanks to a very wise man who happened to be the mayor of Rio in the 19th century. The news story was about the pressure by middle class Brazilians to encroach and built their homes in the forest; it also mentioned the problem of foraging and raids into the forest by the poor population of the city. So the government is building a wall around it.

Another interesting fact I’ve been meaning to mention for some time is the European Greenbelt project. Again, this is not what you would typically think about when you hear the word “greenbelt”—a ring of land restricted for development, encircling a populated area. The European greenbelt is a ribbon of undeveloped land weaving across all of Europe from the Arctic Ocean to the Black See and the Mediterranean and consisting if every type of habitat imaginable—tundra, boreal and broadleaf forests, meadows and rivers. This not-so-accidental nature area has come into existence not by the conservation efforts of man but as a result of 40 years of iron curtain policies and enforcement of a buffer zone between Western and Eastern Europe. As a result of the restricted movement of people across this land (save border guards and Eastern European fugitives dashing across) the zone became a wildlife sanctuary of sorts, home to all kinds of endagered species, and a migratory bird route—probably the only man-made bird route in the world! When people noticed this, the Greenbelt idea was born (and I think, the phrase). Sadly, less than a decade later, it too is under pressures of development, suburban and agricultural alike. A wall alongside it though, as in Rio, would just be just too much of an irony (or something), I’m afraid.

Now these two bits have nothing to do with the fact that the Beltline is now officially city property and zoned as open space (thanks once again, Jean Sweeney!), other that it made me think that the Beltline is our own impromptu greenbelt, and that it could become our urban wild forest, if we so desire. It has been a de facto no man’s land the whole time legal wrangling was going on, and meanwhile it’s grown quite wild and unfamiliar, and I should add, littered. What animals dwell there, I don’t know, but birds are audible and insects are omnipresent. A stroll through the abandoned property is a trip of its own, and it does feel like you’ve stepped away somewhere. Last time I visited I was thinking how sorry I would be to see something tamed and manicured replace this impromptu wilderness, even shabby as it is; that while I would hope that some day it would once again be used as a train or light rail route, I would hate to see it all asphalted and sodded and lanscaped and sprinklered, and mowed by a gas-powered lawnmower. Rather, I’d like to see native plants and wild, tangled trees growing untamed and dirt paths that meander through, with small and tasteful benches here and there, where the adults can rest and listen to nature’s sounds while the kids explore the jungle on their own. Sound fun?

Speaking of growing a forest, another prime spot is Neptune Park, between Webster Street and Constitution, and the whole area along the approach to the Posey Tube, on the right. Right now, that’s all yellow grass and sickly trees. There is landscaping plan for part of that area, but it is oh so bland and boring, and requires ongoing maintenance and irrigation—a very silly thing indeed for a sliver of land nobody would actively use. Wouldn’t an oak forest be just the thing for this otherwise dead spot?