Many people, especially parents of children in the baseball program at Berkeley High School, were disappointed by the City Council’s recent vote not to consider a proposal to close Derby Street in order to build a hard ball field at Derby and Martin Luther King Jr. Way. This was a difficult vote for me because I am a strong supporter of programs for our young people. Initially, I favored the baseball field and felt that closing the street to build one was reasonable. Then I came to realize it was not that simple. As I considered the neighborhood around Derby at MLK, I realized it had always seemed to lack a sense of place. Large institutional uses surround the site, Iceland and a UC administration building to the east, East Campus and a large childcare program on the site itself, and a major thoroughfare, MLK, to the west. The neighborhood and the many families would not be well-served by a large, fenced field that will tend to further erode its sense of cohesion. When I visualized closing Derby and fencing off the vacant land, almost two whole blocks, for a baseball field, I could not agree. The extensive fencing loomed like a barrier, one that would further cut into the residential soul of this neighborhood.
The parents have good reasons for wanting a new field. The baseball teams currently play at San Pablo Park, and have for years. Scheduling for the teams is a problem, as lots of sports are played there. San Pablo Park is not fully fenced, as the field proposed for the Derby site would be, and it is not close to the high school. San Pablo Park is not ideal, but it has served. Bill Savidge, a baseball parent, worked hard to develop the new option that the Council considered. The plan included spaces for gardens and placed the Farmers’ Market at the perimeter of the ball field on MLK, but it still proposed closing Derby and fencing in most of two blocks. It was a worthy try, but one that ultimately could not be supported by the Council.
With the development of the Harrison soccer field and skateboard park, which I supported, and with another smaller, regulation soccer field possible at Derby, the pressure on scheduling baseball games at San Pablo Park should be reduced. Voting not to consider this latest option for closing Derby Street was not an easy decision, but ultimately I came to feel that it was the right one for the largest number of people, and for the city.
Linda Maio is a Berkeley City Councilmember, representing West Berkeley and a portion of Central Berkeley.