Restoration of Berkeley Meadow successful after years of advocacy

Photo: The Berkeley Meadow restoration project was recently celebrated at a dedication ceremony Saturday.
Jonamir Ian Ventura/Staff
The Berkeley Meadow restoration project was recently celebrated at a dedication ceremony Saturday.


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Exactly 50 years ago, Sylvia McLaughlin and her two neighborhood friends could see sewage and waste being poured into the bay from their Berkeley Hills homes. Appalled by the dumping and plans to increase the size of the city by filling in the bay, the three women started their own organization, Save San Francisco Bay Association, to save the bay.

Since then, the efforts of these three women have led to a huge restoration project of the 72-acre Berkeley Meadow, which is located in Eastshore State Park. And now, half a century later, the meadow has turned from a municipal landfill surrounded by garbage and debris to an ecological habitat filled with walking trails, benches and seasonal wetlands all open to the public.

According to Will Travis, executive director of the San Francisco Bay Conservation and Development Commission, the fight to conserve the bay began in 1961 when the city proposed to fill the Berkeley waterfront all the way out to the sea limits of San Francisco, which would have doubled the size of Berkeley.

At this time, the meadow was owned by Santa Fe Pacific Realty, which wanted to sell the property to a big developer in hopes of making the city look more like Emeryville with tall skyscraper buildings, according to Patty Donald, recreation coordinator for the Shorebird Park Nature Center and Adventure Playground.

In 1971, the real estate company and a private developer proposed a shopping mall for the meadow, and when the city rejected the proposal, the company sued. The case went all the way to the Supreme Court in 1980, where the city was victorious.

"Ultimately, it was decided that the city has the right to choose what is going to be the statement of their city, and they stopped Santa Fe Pacific Realty," Donald said. "Santa Fe Pacific Realty ended up selling the land to the state."

Travis said the meadow is now a wildlife sanctuary filled with life and vegetation. Although the public is free to roam most of the waterfront, the meadow is fenced to keep people out of the preserved areas and conserve the resources for the wildlife.

The development project ญญญ- designed by the East Bay Regional Park District - was split into three phases over five years in order to minimize impacts to wildlife in the area and began construction in 2004. According to Chris Barton, the park district's senior planner, the phases consisted of developing walking trails, removing weeds and garbage, putting in fresh dirt and seeding native plants and grasses to create a natural environment.

Two of the phases were paid for by the park district's Resource Enhancement Program and a partnership with some private firms. The third and longest phase was paid for by the park district. Travis said the project totaled $6 million.

The success of the meadow's restoration project was seen Saturday at the Berkeley Meadow dedication, where Donald said Mayor Tom Bates and state Sen. Loni Hancock, D-Oakland, were among the many who showed their support for the project.

Amy Ricard, media relations manager for Save the Bay - formerly the Save San Francisco Bay Association - said that McLaughlin and her friends' mission was to stop the bay-filling proposal and increase public access to the shoreline, which is exactly what is seen today in the meadow.

The ceremony Saturday was dedicated to the founding women of the organization who ultimately saved the land from developers. Donald said a renaming of the meadow in their honor may be seen in the future.

"There were a lot of seniors who had dedicated their life to this fight at the dedication," she said. "They showed the pays of sweat and fight, and I am proud that they were here to do this for us and the future generations to have this space."

Tags: EAST BAY REGIONAL PARK DISTRICT, MAYOR TOM BATES, SAVE THE BAY, BERKELEY MEADOW


Contact Jasmine Mausner at [email protected]



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