Proper Channels to Breakwater Beach

I on Alameda

There has been a secretive effort by city staff to rename one of Alameda’s beaches. It’s not only bad form, it’s a bad idea. Breakwater Beach is a small beach located at Alameda Point near the Navy’s former campground and the city’s Encinal Boat Launch Facility. The beach and its adjacent Bay Trail are under the jurisdiction of the East Bay Regional Park District. If not for the breakwater there, a barrier that protects the harbor from the force of the waves, the beach would not exist.

The regional park district plans to spend half a million dollars upgrading Breakwater Beach and the adjacent dune and shoreline next year. Unbeknownst to the public, however, city staff has told the park district to use the term “Encinal Beach” in its documents.

On Aug. 25, at the recent liaison committee meeting between the park district and the city, where the renaming request was exposed, retired Park District Director Doug Siden voiced his displeasure with the Encinal name.

Councilmember Frank Matarrese exclaimed, “City staff cannot arbitrarily rename a park without going through proper channels. None of us can.”

Whether done out in the open or behind closed doors, renaming the beach makes no sense.

The name Breakwater Beach has much historical significance. Many documents and maps show that the Navy called it that, and rightly so, given its location. Since the base closed in 1997, the city has been aware of the longstanding name as it has been receiving and commenting on Navy documents that contain references to Breakwater Beach. 

The document that cleared the way for the first land transfer from the Navy to the city in 2013 also uses the name Breakwater Beach. Even the Water Emergency Transportation Authority used the name Breakwater Beach in its environmental review documents for building the ferry maintenance facility now under construction just west of the beach.

Park District Director Ellen Corbett represents Alameda and sits on the liaison committee. She also sat on the committee that drafted the 1996 Community Reuse Plan for the Navy base. Corbett said she believes historical context is an important consideration should any renaming occur. City staff did not explain their rationale for wanting to rename the beach, and I can’t think of one valid reason.

Breakwater Beach was built by the Navy in 1945, 36 years before the Encinal Boat Ramp was built. The term “encinal” means an oak grove or an area marked primarily by the growth of oaks. Hardly fitting for the waterfront area.

One reassuring outcome of the Aug. 25 liaison committee meeting is that the East Bay Regional Park District can use the actual name Breakwater Beach until the city decides to officially rename it.

It’s also good to know the city will at least follow proper channels if it’s going to rename a beach after a grove of oaks.

Read more of Irene Dieter’s writings at https://ionalameda.com.