A week after the Berkeley Unified School District board heard praises for its conversion plans for East Campus, a board director has asked for a new plan with a baseball diamond on the site, reigniting a long-standing controversy over the property and possible Derby Street closure.
At its Wednesday meeting, the BUSD board will consider a resolution by Director Terry Doran to ask architects to design proposals for the one-block closure of Derby Street between Milvia Street and Martin Luther King Jr. Way, find an alternate space for the Farmers’ Market, and place a regulation-size high school baseball field on two district-owned lots surrounded by Milvia, King, Carleton, and Ward streets.
The board meeting will be held at 7 p.m. at the Old City Hall on Martin Luther King Jr. Way downtown.
Ruth Reffkin, East Campus Site Committee member, called Doran’s baseball field proposal a “back-stabbing,” “a betrayal,” and a “bait-and-switch” tactic, and promised that East Campus neighbors would fight any plans to close Derby Street.
Last week, after a series of meetings that included East Campus neighbors, school officials, and baseball field supporters, WLC Architects produced two proposals for the use of the East Campus property. The architects were hired by the Berkeley school board with instructions that their plans neither include the closure of Derby Street, nor create any structure that would prevent the closure of Derby Street and the building of a baseball field sometime in the future. The plans are expected to be presented to the board in May.
Doran’s resolution would authorize up to $10,000 to amend the district’s contract with WLC for the architects to produce a third plan, including the street closure and the baseball field. The street closure, if chosen, must be approved by the City Council.
Doran said his motivation was to “give board members information on all of the alternatives” concerning the district’s Derby Street properties.
He said that it would save the district money to look at the baseball field now, in conjunction with the temporary plans, rather than waiting until a later date.
Doug Fielding, chairman of the Association of Sports Field Users of Berkeley and Albany and a supporter of locating the baseball field on the Derby Street property, said that Doran’s motion is critical.
“We feel if we can’t get the motion passed, [the baseball field] deal is dead,” he said.
At the end of last week’s WLC-sponsored community meeting at the Berkeley Alternative High School, members of the “Friends of Derby Street Fields” passed out a 12-page pamphlet which advocated Derby Street closure and the building of a baseball field. The pamphlet included a schematic that showed the possible location of the baseball field, the retention of the Alternative High School in its present location, an alternative site for the Farmers’ Market, as well as the community garden, tot field, and basketball courts called for in the WLC plans.
Friends of Derby Street Fields is an informal organization of Berkeley residents formed in the late 1990s and resurrected a year ago when the BUSD board reopened consideration of development of the Derby Street properties.
Doran said it would be hard to imagine WLC coming up with anything different from the Friends of Derby St. Fields proposal. He also said formal discussion of a regulation baseball field plan “would lay to rest the rumors about lights, or sound systems, or locked gates on that site. Those things have never been on the table, as far as I’m concerned.”
Doran said that what was missing in the Friends’ plan—and what would be included in a WLC plan—would be a cost-analysis of building a baseball field from scratch, or converting to a baseball field after either of the temporary plans were put in place for a few years.
Site Committee member Ruth Reffkin said that East Campus neighbors “all feel very betrayed by this. I’ve been involved in this process for months and months, and we were all told that all they would come up with was a temporary plan which would not include a baseball field, and which would not include the closure of Derby Street.”
Reffkin was one of the neighbors who spoke in praise of both the WLC process and the proposed plans at last week’s board meetings.
“They came up with incredible designs that included both community use and student use of the fields,” she said. “But all of a sudden, this proposal came up without warning. It’s my belief that it was Terry’s (Doran’s) agenda to close Derby Street all along, and now he’s trying to sneak this item in at the last minute.”
Reffkin said that installing a baseball field would be too expensive and destroy community trust.
“With a teacher contract dispute going on, and the district having financial problems, is this the most important thing to be spending our money on at this time?” she asked.
Reffkin said she was concerned that a baseball field would mean stadium lights and loudspeakers, despite Doran’s assurances. Reffkin said that she and other East Campus neighbors would not oppose multi-use athletic fields on the property.
“We live in this city,” she said. “These are our kids. We want them using the fields. What we’re objecting to is the destruction of our community.”?