Berkeley Gets Rolling On Skateboard Park

For scores of Berkeley, California soccer teams andskateboarders, finding a place to play in the city canbe more competitive than their sports.

But that may change with plans to build two athleticfields and the city’s first skateboard park on a vacantplot of land in industrial West Berkeley.

To the cheers of soccer players, skateboarders andtheir parents, the Berkeley City Council voted onTuesday to spend $4 million to purchase the propertyand build the sports facilities. Construction will beginin March and is scheduled to be completed by August.

Now owned by the University of California, the6.4-acre site is bounded by Harrison Street, FifthStreet, the Albany city line and Union Pacific Railroadtracks. The city’s plan includes improvements toCordornices Creek, which runs along the property’snorthern end, and to the Harrison House HomelessShelter, located on the west side.

The project was spearheaded by Berkeley’sAssociation for Sports Field Users, a nonprofit groupof parent volunteers who will oversee the constructionas they did at two adjacent fields in Albany five yearsago.

“In the last 15 years, there’s been an explosion of girlsplaying sports, but in urban areas very few fields havebeen built,” said Doug Fielding, who chairs the group.“We’re not like Danville. We don’t have the space.”

Girls in soccer uniforms and boys carryingskateboards attended the City Council meeting to pleadtheir case.

“We need a place we can skate that’s safe withoutgetting tickets and without getting hassled,” said12-year-old Jesse Miller Gordon.

Bringing vanloads of kids to Berkeley’s industrialheartland every day has raised concerns aboutexposing young athletes to heavy flows of truck trafficand air pollution.

But like other urban areas, Berkeley has been underpressure in recent years to accommodate the growingdemand for sports fields, particularly among girls.Parents and city officials searched for the past threeyears for a large piece of land in the built-up city, butquickly realized that the Harrison Street property wasthe only realistic choice.

“Is this the ideal site? I don’t think so,” saidCouncilwoman Linda Maio, who represents the WestBerkeley district. “It would be great if it was in awooded, parklike setting. But that kind of availablespace doesn’t exist in Berkeley.”

Maio said she is concerned about the air quality in theindustrial neighborhood and will ask the council nextweek to set up three pollution-monitoring stations inthe area. She said she suspects most of the airpollutants come from heavily congested Interstate 80.

Owners of industrial businesses nearby are concernedabout safety, parking and traffic once the sportscomplex is built. In particular, they are worried aboutfuture lawsuits by parents if their children areinvolved in accidents or develop respiratory ailments.

In a recent letter to the City Council, the WestBerkeley Association of Industrial Companies askedthe city to have parents sign a liability release beforeallowing their children to play at the sports complex.The letter also suggested that steps be taken to ensuresafety, including the posting of industrial warningsigns, limiting entrance to the park and providingsecurity guards.

Parents and children who support the project are notas worried about the air quality.

“My favorite places to skateboard in Berkeley aresubterranean parking garages, and it doesn’t get muchworse than that,” said Wyatt Miller, 17, a BerkeleyHigh School senior and member of the city’s YouthCommission.