Berkeley Meadow: Eastshore State Park
Take the University Ave. I-80 overpass and drive west for about ¼ mile. The flat parcel on your right, once part of the City’s garbage dump, is the Berkeley Meadow—heart of the Eastshore State Park.
When the San Francisco Bay was ringed with reeds and shallow marshlands, there was little distinction between land and water. In the 1920s Berkeley began filling wetlands near its Municipal Pier with garbage. Once filled the area was capped with foundation soil and compacted clay, then sealed with topsoil. The filled Meadow section languished for decades, evolving into a vegetation-entangled eco-system inhabited by rats, jackrabbits, squirrels, snakes and raptors. Only the bravest of dog walkers dared enter.
Thanks to the activities of the Save the Bay Association and other environmental groups, bay fill was effectively halted when the state legislature established the Bay Conservation and Development Commission in 1965. A year later, plans by Catullus Development Corporation (the landholding subsidiary of the Santa Fe Railroad) for twin office towers on the Meadow failed by a single Berkeley City Council vote. Some then argued that the fill had done enough damage to the ecosystem and the Meadow should be left untouched. By continuing to allow feral cats to exist beside northern harriers, invasive fennel to mingle with coastal scrub, and debris to merge with topsoil, nature would find its way. In December 2002, after years of rancor over different Meadow proposals, an Eastshore State Park general plan was accepted. Today the Meadow has been “restored” to seasonal wetlands with a coastal prairie habitat of native shrubs interlaced with nature trails and displays on coastal restoration. It is now what it might have been had it always been there but, with rising sea levels, perhaps someday it will evolve back to the tidal marshlands that existed prior to the Park’s restoration.
Contributed by Robert Kehlmann, 2013
Susan Schwartz: “History and Future of the Berkeley Waterfront”