It didn’t take long for Jorge Lopez to visit Berkeley’s newest park, Brickyard Cove, an extension of McLaughlin Eastshore State Park, located just south of University Avenue along Interstate 80.
“It’s beautiful—a great idea,” Lopez said on Saturday, walking along the park’s peninsula with two kids and a small cooler in tow, after a picnic on the new benches. “Today we had breakfast here and enjoyed the view. I like to run so I am going to come here to get my exercise.”
Lopez and his family’s visit coincided with an official ribbon cutting for the park by city, state and parks officials.
The ceremony began with the recognition of the Ohlone and other Native tribes that have held stewardship of the land for centuries. Then one stakeholder after another described their elated feelings about seeing this park come to fruition and outlined the park’s complicated historical chess game that led to Saturday’s opening.
“The journey to protect and reclaim the park started 60 years ago,” said East Bay Regional Parks District Board Member Elizabeth Echols, who represents the area. “Now we look at these beautiful spaces and that was not the original vision, not in the least.”
After World War II, there was a push to develop all around the San Francisco Bay, essentially turning the Bay into a tight waterway far from what it looked like thousands of years ago, and even far smaller than its size now.
The land where the new Brickyard Cove Park sits used to be a dump owned by Santa Fe Land Development Corp., which became Catellus Development. It was filled with bricks and dirt and garbage, with the intent to eventually develop yet another shopping mall.
“They were just filling it up with garbage and construction debris and — I won’t say a bad word —so they could claim it and build on it,” said State Sen. Nancy Skinner, who spoke at the ribbon-cutting event. “I ran on a platform to stop landfilling our garbage on the waterfront and to take back our waterfront so it’s not gone forever.”
Then began the hard work and creativity to get back the land, officials said.
After years of trying and failing to negotiate a price for the land, officials threatened to condemn the property, former Berkeley Mayor Tom Bates said. Then voters in Berkeley, Albany and Emeryville voted to zone the vast majority of the bayfront land as park space.
Santa Fe Land Development Corp., later Catellus, had little choice but to sell. For $35 million, California State Parks purchased the shoreline land from Emeryville to Richmond, more than 8 miles and 18,000 acres.
Since then, a meandering San Francisco Bay Trail has been developed on the McLaughlin Eastshore State Park land — a much loved route for bicyclists, walkers and joggers.
Construction gates came down earlier in the week in an unannounced move by the East Bay Regional Parks District. The park is owned by California State Parks, but managed by EBRPD.
Adrienne Wong and Dan Bandini of AWA, the landscape architecture firm that was hired to take the lead in designing the park, said their mission was to transform the literal dump into a multi-use, easily accessible, nature preserve that could become a jewel of the park system.
They included rolling hills in the landscape, a natural amphitheater, boulders for kids to climb and play on and picnic tables. They have seeded the park with native plants like California poppies and lupin. There are four all-gender restrooms, and a hummingbird garden has been planted.
Wong said it took a little longer than expected to open the park due to pandemic-related construction restrictions. Her firm has been working on it since 2017.
The park is somewhere around 30 acres and took $5 million to build. The money came from a grant from California State Parks.
“The vision was to take up a parcel that was left over, clean debris, make it accessible to the public, bring in the community and take advantage of the view,” said EBRPD’s own landscape architect and project manager Carmen Erasmus. There is a glorious sweeping view of San Francisco and the Bay from the park, perfect for watching Bay fireworks displays over the holidays.
Some of the park has grass in it, and some is natural foliage. There are still broken garbage bricks in the more natural areas, which are also dotted by wildflowers.
EBRPD leaders like Echols say Brickyard Cove, named after the dumped bricks that littered the area, will be the region’s most accessible park. It is close to I-80, but Echols would like to see people use the pedestrian bridge next to University Avenue to access the park.
Berkeley Mayor Jesse Arreguín, who was born long after the fight to preserve this park began, said he is incredibly happy to see “piles of dirt” transformed into a public space.
“This really was a community-wide and district effort,” he said. “This site survived the threat of development. This in an incredible vantage point to marvel at the beauty of San Francisco Bay.”
He said much more needs to be done to save the natural ecosystem of the Bay, and creating spaces like Brickyard Cove is vital to that effort.
“I look forward to this cove to be enjoyed for many, many years to come,” he said.
Laura Casey is a freelance writer covering Berkeley and the East Bay.