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Consolidating the Waterfront Commission: A Bad Idea That Saves Nothing

Naval architect and Chair of the City of Berkeley Waterfront Commission Paul Kamen weighs in.

On Tuesday, May 31, the City Council will consider a measure to consolidate several commissions in order to reduce these commissions' demand on staff support resources. 
 
This might be a valid cost-reduction strategy in general, but in the case of combining the Waterfront Commission with the Parks and Recreation Commission, it will have just the opposite effect.
 
Although the two Commissions are both supported by the City's , they are supported by different staff and have different funding streams. Nearly all Waterfront Commission staff support is provided by the Waterfront Manager or the Harbormaster. It makes no sense to ask waterfront staff to sit in on meetings that involve upland park issues that have no relevance to the marina.
 
Even if waterfront staff time in support of the Waterfront Commission could be reduced, this saving will have no effect on the City's General Fund. The marina is a Special Enterprise Zone - its revenue and expenditures are independent of the City's general fund. And on occasions when non-marina staff time does need to be used in support of waterfront projects, the Marina Fund, not the General Fund, is billed.
 
More to the point, this particular consolidation will increase the time burden on the non-marina staff, who are paid from the General Fund. When waterfront staff and parks staff are both present - which will likely have to be the case at most of the consolidated commission meetings - we will have unnecessary and wasteful duplication. Do we want Parks and Recreation staff to sit through discussions on waterfront issues that have nothing to do with city parks? Should staff be asked to deal with maritime issues well outside of their areas of expertise?
 
This last point may be particularly important: The Berkeley waterfront includes berthing for over a thousand boats, four restaurants, a large hotel, commercial fish boat support, a boatyard, sailing schools, and a number of other water access organizations and the specialized infrastructure that goes with all of these activities. There is a major ferry terminal in the works. Waterfront staff is well versed in all of these issues, but the issues are largely irrelevant to upland park management.
 
The Waterfront Commission itself contains some specialized expertise in these areas that would most likely be lost through consolidation. Current Commissioners include board members of BCDC, the Regional Water Quality Control Board, Cal Sailing Club, Berkeley Yacht Club, and a number of other sailing, windsurfing and paddling advocacy and access groups. There is a strong commitment on the current Waterfront Commission to low-cost public access to water-related activities. This depth of experience in maritime affairs, both recreational and commercial, has been a valuable asset to the marina. It is largely through the efforts of a knowledgeable and committed Waterfront Commission that the Berkeley Marina remains a welcoming access point for a wide variety of boating, fishing and waterfront recreation, especially for people who cannot afford boats of their own.
 
Perhaps a more direct way to reduce staff time overload would be to allow members of the Commission, instead of commission secretaries, to take their own minutes, prepare reports and handle other administrative tasks with reduced staff assistance. Any Commission worth retaining will certainly be able to cover these basic functions from within their own membership.

Have an idea for a letter to the editor? Write to monica.lam@patch.com.

Bill Rioberts May 31, 2011 at 02:10 PM
Paul states the case for keeping the Waterfront Commission separate very well. Having served on the Parks Commission in the past, I see the Waterfront/Parks consolidation as a total mismatch. The proposed consolidation is more likely to increase costs than to reduce costs. Bad idea. Bill Roberts
Phil Catalfo May 31, 2011 at 04:24 PM
I serve on the Waterfront Commission (and chaired it for two years), and I agree totally. Paul laid out the case very clearly and convincingly. It would save the city budget nothing, and only create more strain on the general fund, not to mention burden the members of the Park & Rec Commission more. Don't "consolidate" the Waterfront Commission out of existence!

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