[Editor's Note: Paul Kamen, of CDAWGS, shared this open letter to Ruth Coleman and Caryl Hart of the California State Parks Commission, as well as Chris Barton and Bob Doyle of the East Bay Regional Park District.]
I am writing regarding the Albany Beach project.
At recent workshops, public input has been directed to the task of evaluating one of three levels of beach enhancement and park development. However all of these proposals suffer from a serious oversight. At best, the work of the park planners will need to be revised. At worst, both State Parks and the EBRPD are about to commit a monumental error in terms of park usage level, public relations and the political viability of future park revenue measures.
The situation invokes "The Emperor Has No Clothes" fable. That is, there is a perfectly obvious problem that the bureaucracies involved seem to be incapable of acknowledging, let alone realistically addressing: Dog policy on the beach.
None of the three alternatives presented for public comment make any sense at all unless the dog policy issue is resolved first.
Yes, we all know that in theory, dogs are not allowed in a state park and will not be allowed on Albany Beach. As the saying goes, "In theory, there is no difference between theory and practice. But in practice, there is."
Facts on the ground: Over the last 25 years, thousands of people have been using Albany Beach for off-leash dog play and exercise. It is by far the most popular use, and arguably the highest and best use, of a cold-water beach located so close to an urban population center. If park planners expect dog restrictions to be enforced, there is a problem.
Short of dedicating full-time enforcement resources, there is no practical way to end this use pattern - regardless of the merits of any restrictive dog policy that might be put in place as part of one of the three plans.
Viable solutions do exist. The "South Albany Beach," between the ruins of the old pier and Fleming Point, is about one-third the size of the main beach and every bit as attractive for human recreation. Probably more so, in fact, because it adjoins Fleming Point itself, the only remaining original bit of natural East Bay shoreline.
Equally important, there is sufficient separation between this beach and the main beach so that isolation from dogs would be easy and sensible. "Sensible" is important. Dog owners occupy no moral high ground, and will disregard seemingly arbitrary and unfair restrictions just as freely as we all roll through stop signs at 1 mph when there is no conflicting traffic. The rules have to make sense if they are to be observed, and a separate, isolated beach for the minority of potential beach users who need separation from dogs makes perfect sense.
There are also areas of agreement among the various stakeholders, despite vastly different goals and visions. All interested parties, from CESP and the native plant advocates to the kiteboarders and dog runners, want running water and a real bathroom. The LSA "Opportunities and Constraints" report estimates total cost at approx. $2M, but in terms of park amenities of value to users, this is far more important than a multi-million dollar "beach augmentation" scheme of questionable necessity.
I note that as a naval architect I have had occasion to participate in a number of coastal engineering projects, and I believe I have at least a rudimentary understanding of beach dynamics.
The Albany Beach began to grow when the landfill operation created the sediment-trapping neck of land extending out into the Bay. According to the LSA/PWA hydrology analysis, the beach has reached a stable condition. As sea level rises over the decades, this equilibrium will most likely be maintained and the height of the beach will naturally rise to match sea level - although the background analysis contained in the "Existing and Future Conditions" report by LSA does not cite sufficient analysis of the sand to determine if the source is from local landfills (Merritt formation) or from offshore sand transported as bed load. This determination may be critical in predicting whether or not the beach can follow sea level changes unassisted.
If in fact sea level rises faster than new sand can accumulate, then nourishing the beach with added sand may become desirable - but it is much too soon to commit major resources to this action.
There also is significant risk that adding other features to seaward of the existing beach will attenuate wave energy, alter refraction patterns, reduce sand percolation and disrupt the equilibrium of the beach in unpredictable ways. Sand should not be added to mitigate against sea level rise until observed beach dynamics demonstrate the actual need.
Be careful with the dunes, too. Dunes are aerodynamic artifacts, and altering the contours of the land and other objects upwind will almost certainly have unanticipated consequences. The dunes developed in the current unregulated environment, and it is probably best to leave them alone.
To summarize: It does not make sense to spend multiple millions on beach and dune "enhancement" projects that are risky, unpopular, and demanding of continuous and draconian enforcement resources.
I speak only for myself here, but I believe a consensus among the most active users of Albany Beach, present and future, is emerging:
1) Continue to allow off-leash dogs on the main part of Albany Beach.
2) Designate the South Albany Beach as dog-free.
3) Acquire an additional parcel to add parking and to improve access to the south.
4) If there is any money left to do anything at all, use it to extend utilities and build the bathroom and washdown area.
Habitat preservation should always be a high priority, but is Albany Beach the right place to direct scarce resources? An acre of threatened Habitat at a more remote site can be restored, preserved and protected for a very small fraction of the cost of doing it at Albany Beach. Meaningful wetlands habitat restoration projects are on the order of tens of thousands of acres. This project, even if wildly successful as habitat, is limited to such a small scale that it can only be described as overpriced environmental tokenism.
We should not waste money fighting time, tide and local culture on an urban beach.