Oakland: the other, less-scenic side of San Francisco Bay.
The remedy: a world-class park where Oakland meets the new east span of the Bay Bridge.
Caltrans, Oakland, the Bay Area Toll Authority and six other agencies are trying to provide more fun, scenery and character to the East Bay shoreline with ambitious plans for a waterfront park with eye-catching attractions for visitors and bridge users.
Featured in the most recreation-intensive of three conceptual options: a Ferris wheel, elevated tramway, waterfront restaurants, boardwalk, a large, grassy commons area for concerts, a transportation museum, dog and skate parks, trails for hikers and bicyclists and a public garden.
The Ferris wheel could be a signature attraction, similar to the giant London Eye Ferris wheel towering over the Thames River in London, or the smaller one by the Santa Monica Pier overlooking the Pacific Ocean, planners say.
With or without a Ferris wheel, a prime attraction of the new park will be the entrance and exit point for the walking and bicycling trail on the new east span of the Bay Bridge. Joggers, walkers and bicyclists will be able to get from Oakland to Yerba Buena Island on the $6.3 billion span when it opens in 2013 or 2014,
"We are looking for a world-class park at the touchdown for a world-class bridge," said Will Travis, executive director of the Bay Conservation and Development Commission, one of the agencies planning the park.
Gateway Park is the working name for the plan that so far is big on vision and short on details.
Officials don't yet know the size of the park. It could be 25 acres, 50 acres or more in a strip of mostly industrial property south of the bridge and west of the East Bay Municipal Utility District sewer plant.
Much of the area along Burma Road is home to construction and utility equipment, power and pump stations, and tall weeds behind chain-length fence and barbed wire.
Nine agencies are teaming up for a $950,000 study to begin planning the basic park features, its operator, cost and funding. A report is due this summer.
To get environmental permits to build the east span of the bridge, Caltrans was required to provide 15 acres of old Army base land for a shoreline park.
"We started with a small area, but decided it made much more sense to look at a larger area because of the unique opportunity at this scenic place with excellent views of the Bay and the bridge," said Rod McMillan, director of bridge oversight and operations for the Bay Area Toll Authority. "Our idea was to think big and blur the property lines."
Consultants have unveiled three alternative concepts, all with displays of large public art and using pieces of the old east span of the bridge after it is dismantled.
One, the "relax and restore" concept, would emphasize protection and restoration of natural areas and minimize human use. An environmental education center would be open to classes, researchers or invited guests.
Another, the "getting there" concept, focuses on developing more trails for people to get to the park and travel inside it. Elevated hiking and bicycling lanes would be built above the heavy port truck traffic on Grand Avenue and Maritime Street.
A third concept emphasizes attractions and activities to draw visitors with bolder features such as a larger common grassy area for concerts, a boardwalk and restaurants. The elevated tramway, or gondola, and Ferris wheel would give visitors an elevated vantage point to enjoy the views of the bridge, the Oakland and San Francisco skylines and San Francisco Bay.
"Some members of the public really like the Ferris wheel idea," McMillan said, "and some really hate it."
Sports courts and a garden could be developed on vacant land under the elevated freeway interchange known as the MacArthur Maze.
Elements from each of the three options are likely to make it into the first park plan draft coming later this year.
"I think something in the middle range of recreation intensity is good," said Dave Campbell, program director of the East Bay Bicycle Coalition. "It should be a signature park, but if you do much to bring too many cars to the area, it will make it difficult for pedestrians and bicyclists to get around."
Bob Doyle, an East Bay Regional Park District assistant general manager, said he wants a bold plan, but one that doesn't cost too much to build or operate.
"We want to do something very special for the city of Oakland, but sometimes doing something fairly simple can be effective," Doyle said. "We know this area will get a lot of use because everyone with a bicycle will want to ride on that bridge bike lane at least once."
Contact Denis Cuff at 925-943-8267.
To take part in an online survey on the proposed Gateway Park, go to http://baybridgegatewaypark.org by July 19 and click on "Take our online survey."