It turns out that the proposal to develop a new ferry terminal in Berkeley is beset by more difficulties than just a group of pesky windsurfers.  The financial challenges of running a ferry system  are substantial, and the Water Emergency Transit Agency has quietly adjusted their schedule for starting service to Berkeley to Fiscal Year 2017/18.  This follows in the footsteps of a highly critical report in Matier and Ross on October 8, 2012, that notes that ridership on the new South San Francisco service is about 1/3 of that projected by WETA, and requires a public subsidy of $133 per passenger per trip.

WETA staff has been assuring the City of Berkeley that the proposed site between the Berkeley pier and H’s Lordships restaurant—right in the middle of the water used daily by Berkeley windsurfers of all disciplines—is a high priority.  Their Executive Director recently told the WETA board that their consultants have submitted a draft Final EIR to the Federal Transit Administration (FTA) and intends to try to “expedite” conditional use permits from the City of Berkeley.  The draft EIR did not mention use of the site by windsurfers or fishermen, or note that the Berkeley marina is Berkeley’s largest park.

 However, WETA has adopted a new “Short Term Transit Plan FY2012—FY2021” that significantly delays any possible construction and operation of the proposed new terminal.  Chapter 5 of that plan,, admits the funding difficulties.  On page 5-8, it notes that full funding for the Richmond and Berkeley services “…will require re-allocation of RM2 expansion funds, currently used to fill a funding gap for the Vallejo service…”  It is not clear at this time whether funds are available for terminal construction, or indeed what the revised cost estimate is for the proposed terminal.

Obtaining approval from the City of Berkeley and the FTA poses additional difficulties.  Currently, the City of Berkeley’s adopted Master Plan has no land use designations that designate the proposed site for a Ferry Terminal, and it is not clear that the City could issue WETA a conditional permit without amending that plan.  There are no current plans, or funds, to update the Marina Master Plan.  The Federal Transit Administration (FTA) must complete a Final EIS before they can provide any funding to WETA for the Berkeley Ferry.  But the FTA is guided by Section 4(f) of the Department of Transportation Act of 1966, codified at 49 U.S.C. 303.  That section establishes a national policy that a special effort should be made to preserve the park and recreational lands, and transportation projects may not be approved unless there are no feasible alternatives.  The regulations implementing that requirement, found in 23CFR §771.135, provide:

  1. 1.The Administration may not approve the use of land from a significant publicly owned public park, recreation area, or wildlife and waterfowl refuge, or any significant historic site unless a determination is made that:
    1. i.There is no feasible and prudent alternative to the use of land from the property; and
    2. ii.The action includes all possible planning to minimize harm to the property resulting from such use.
  2. 2.Supporting information must demonstrate that there are unique problems or unusual factors involved in the use of alternatives that avoid these properties or that the cost, social, economic, and environmental impacts, or community disruption resulting from such alternatives reach extraordinary magnitudes.

Since the draft EIR prepared by WETA identified neither recreational use, or the nature of Berkeley marina as a park, it is not clear that the FTA can approve the Final EIS without further public review and comment.

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