Good News for Berkeley Pier?

$5.1M grant OK’d to study revitalizing pier with ferry

By Katie Lauer

The Berkeley Marina’s historic pier has remained abandoned, crumbling and fenced off for the nearly eight years since it closed amid deteriorating concrete and corroded rebar from years of weathering by San Francisco Bay’s breaking salt water waves.
Now a $5.1 million grant from local transit officials will help the city take another step to reopening and expanding the structure built directly across from the Golden Gate Bridge in the 1920s. The grant will fund critical state and federal environmental reviews of a $121 million restoration project.
In addition to tackling desperately needed pier repairs, the project will also bring a large-scale passenger ferry service to the marina — nearly a century after plans to ferry commuters by boat never materialized.
The new grant — which will fund the project’s design, environmental review and engineering work — was approved on Thursday by the 22-member Alameda County Transportation Commission that represents the region’s local governments, AC Transit and BART.
That award — funded through ACTC’s 2024 Comprehensive Investment Plan, which will allocate a total of $207 million across the county over the next five years — will be matched by city funds in order to cover the projected $10.3 million needed for this phase of preliminary reviews, according to city documents.
Once completed, the Berkeley ferry terminal will provide an alternative for commuters who otherwise use the Bay Bridge and BART’s Transbay Tube, as well as critical resources during an earthquake or other natural disaster.
The ferry terminal is proposed for construction within the first 580 feet of the repaired pier, and the existing structure will be extended another 500 feet into the bay. Additionally, a new 400-foot curved breakwater will be installed perpendicular to the pier — creating a design city staff have dubbed “the sword.”
In total, the newly constructed pier will offer 32,560 square feet of space — all of which will be open to the public for general recreation.
If all goes to plan, the final plan will be ready for council review and approval by the end of 2024, according to an update from city staff in March.
While the City Council has dedicated $40.2 million to the waterfront in the past 15 years, more than $140 million is still needed for improvements to the dock systems, restrooms, roads, parking lots and other features.
There’s currently not enough revenue flowing into the marina’s fund for the industrial boat yard, hotel and restaurants onsite to cover annual expenses or improvements of existing assets. Next year, Berkeley City Manager Dee Ridley-Williams said the annual deficit will exceed $1.4 million.
The hope is that the pier and zero-emission ferry project will help the publicly owned open space become financially self-sustainable, as well as benefit the environment.
The waterfront property’s pier wasn’t always in disrepair. Originally constructed by the Golden Gate Ferry Co. in 1926, the pier helped pedestrians and automobiles reach San Francisco before the service was discontinued in 1937 and the city acquired the structure.
For years, it thrived as a hub for recreation until 2015, when the city was forced to close the pier indefinitely to address safety concerns.
The vision to return ferry service to Berkeley was first proposed in 2016 by the Water Emergency Transportation Authority, which is responsible for developing and operating all ferry transportation on the San Francisco Bay — including five new ferry terminal projects in the past decade. It was later approved as part of the final “Plan Bay Area 2050” process in 2021.
Pushback has bubbled up from some residents who use the marina for recreation.
Jim McGrath, a Berkeley resident and former Parks and Waterfront commissioner, has been vocal about the pier and ferry plan, particularly with concerns that it will overrun the marina’s parking spaces with ferry passengers.
According to commission documents, Ridley-Williams assured ACTC that only 250 spaces will be reserved for weekday ferry riders — accounting for 17% of the more than 1,500 parking spaces spread across the marina. Despite the potentially daunting ridership projection of 1,910 boardings within the first year of service, many passengers may get to the marina using public transit, bicycles, family drop-offs or even a potential shuttle proposed for the area, she said.
Thursday’s approval was a smooth vote, after a bulk of the discussion happened at the commission’s May 8 Programs and Projects Committee meeting.
Commissioner Marilyn Ezzy Ashcraft, who is the mayor of the city of Alameda — lauded the host of benefits she’s seen from water transportation.
“It gets cars off the road, reducing vehicle miles traveled and greenhouse gas emissions, and these newer generations of ferries … just keep getting better,” Ashcraft said on May 8. “I can also attest that ferry commuters are the happiest commuters out there. There is no road rage, there’s no traffic jams — it’s just a win win.”
Several leaders of community organizations — ranging from the Berkeley Chamber of Commerce and Walk Bike Berkeley, to San Francisco’s Office of Economic & Workforce Development — also co-signed a letter of support for project on Berkeley’s waterfront, which they called a “spectacular jewel of a public space” that welcomes more than 200,000 visitors each year.
According to Berkeley Councilmember Rigel Robinson, who represents the city on ACTC, the grant would not have been possible without leveraging other matching funds, including $15 million earmarked within California’s 2022-23 budget.
“This is such a big step forward for mobility, such a big step forward for emergency access, such a big step forward for clean transportation, and a huge step forward to revitalize our broken and beloved pier,” said Robinson, who frequents the marina to windsurf and volunteer as a lesson instructor at the Cal Sailing Club. “It’s incredibly exciting.”

Red Fish

Senior Member
Some will be opposed but at least the pier will be reopened — and extended out an additional 500 feet.
Something is better than nothing at all. It will be good to see some type of pier in the area I fished my entire youth. As far as being overcrowded and difficult to access, it is yet to be seen. Hopefully there will still be some free public parking, but we'll see in about (5) years or so?


Well-Known Member
As long as it's still a "fishing pier" and angling is not prohibited. I can just see the problems with all of the non-anglers complaining about the fishing going on, especially if it's a busy ferry.

Red Fish

Senior Member
As long as it's still a "fishing pier" and angling is not prohibited. I can just see the problems with all of the non-anglers complaining about the fishing going on, especially if it's a busy ferry.
  • Yes, fishing from a pier there will be seen as a distraction to many people (if we get in their way) that will use the ferry for daily commute to SF and for tourism, back and forth from SF (seeking to come to Berkeley to walk around the campus area and eat breakfast, lunch, dinner).
  • There will have to be a parking lot/garage built up at Frontage Road and an additional access road opened by the hotel on Marina Blvd. to accommodate the extra people the ferry service will bring to the marina. Plus, there will definitely be a need to place a stop light at University and Frontage Road as well as Gilman and Frontage Road.

Red Fish

Senior Member
Some will be opposed but at least the pier will be reopened — and extended out an additional 500 feet.
  1. So, I imagine they are going to go with the plan where the pier looks like a hook at the end? One where some kind of vehicle will drive people to the end and turn around at the end. I am imagining there will be railed off areas on the north and south sides big enough for fishing (or maybe just 1 side for fishing?).
  2. It will be interesting to see how the final plan works out but I believe the ferry system's needs will be #1 in planning. I like the idea of the ferry system being on the south end where Hs. Lordships was and building it out from there. And build a fishing pier (even if it is not as long from the original ferry pier location). Seems they have made some decision at this point to make that J-shaped pier in the original spot.
  3. I also believe there will be a gate that will open and close to the fishing pier access and will probably close when the daily ferry service ends for the day.
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Red Fish

Senior Member
"The Sword" Hope they have restrooms strategically located "on the pier" and get it done before we get too old to care.
Yeah, there is quite a bit of bureaucracy. I did not even consider the actual boat marina that would be impacted by the ferry crossing in and out. The other smaller ferries in the past just left from the marina. And the constant dredging that would be necessary couldn't be good for fishing at all. I still see people seeking recreation in this area, fishing or otherwise, would be considered in the way of ferry riders. From the letter from Councilman Fred McGrath, I am convinced that money would be better spent on commuting to S.F. by building up the already existing B.A.R.T. (subway trains) system with better security, cameras, lighting, etc.​
The plan to just build up the existing pier with the funding they mentioned, WETA I believe, and the city money, would be the best way to go and must easier and faster to complete. This SWORD would really be a stab in the chest and the marina/pier area would probably be so congested (not to mention Frontage Road) that it wouldn't be worth it. If anything, fix the Berkeley Pier where it stands for fishing and recreation and build a smaller ferry landing down from the Hs. Lordship's location that would leave enough room to not block the existing pier or boat marina and not hold up the fishing pier with an elongated period of construction.​