From the Dirt Hotel to Point Pinole

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Over the next eight weeks, trucks will be dropping off load after load of dirt in Point Pinole Regional Park before returning to Berkeley for more.

As part of the Point Pinole Regional Shoreline project, about 70,000 cubic yards of dirt will be relocated from a giant mound on University Avenue just off Interstate 80. Most of it will be used to build a bridge over the railroad tracks.

The dirt will also be used to create more park space for families to picnic at and open areas for the community to get fresh air. The improvements will include a new parking lot, picnic areas and pads for a future visitor center and service yard facility, said Diane Althoff, the chief of design and construction for East Bay Regional Park District.

The existing children’s play area will also be replaced, though it is not within the bridge project area.

“I think the changes will encourage more people to visit the park and that’s very good,” said Richmond resident Miriam Maldonal, 65. “I just went there three weeks ago with my daughter and grandchildren and we enjoyed ourselves. Hopefully, with more open space and park space the health of the people living here will improve.”

Althoff said that the work is being funded by the Park District, the Contra Costa Transportation Authority and the City of Richmond.

The bridge project is estimated to go out to bid in winter this year and construction is scheduled to begin in spring next year. It is likely to be completed in late 2014.

Until bridge building begins for real, the dirt delivered to Point Pinole will be used to ramp up the earth at the construction site to the level of the future bridge.

Yadira Alvarez, a 32-year-old mother of two, said she was excited about the plans for more open space. She said she believes the fresh air will benefit her 10-year-old son, who has asthma.

“My son was diagnosed with asthma when he was four years old and it has been extremely difficult,” she said. “I do notice that asthma is common among children in Richmond so more open space is definitely welcome.”

On the other side of town, Berkeley residents expressed mixed feelings about the halving of the dirt accumulated over the last decade or so.

“I’m glad to hear it’ll be put to better use instead of just lying there,” said Eric Romo, who works near the dirt hill as a dispatcher for Truitt and White.

But Scott Frye, who walks his dog in the area almost every day, said he worried that if a visitors center was built his dog would have to be leashed. “There are also lots of flowers growing on the dirt pile and lots of wildlife surrounding it,” he said. “I’ll be sad to see it changed.”

The land in Berkeley on which the dirt sits is co-owned by East Bay Regional Park District and California State Parks. Richmond-based construction company R.C. Knapp Inc. was already a tenant in the area when they bought the land 14 years ago. Knapp then began signing a month-to-month license to operate the so-called Dirt Hotel, where trucks would drop off dirt until it was needed again.

Park District Land Acquisition Manager Liz Musbach said that Knapp had been given two years beginning mid-2011 to phase out the Dirt Hotel, but that given the current property depression the Park District was working closely with Knapp to find places for the dirt.

Musbach said that once the dirt is reduced to an appropriate level the Parks District has plans for a visitor center, parking lot, picnic areas and restrooms on the site.

Patricia Jones, the executive director of Citizens of East Shore Park, said that the organization had been advocating for the dirt to be removed for at least six years to make way for a better entrance to the Eastshore State Park.

“CESP looks forward to the Brickyard no longer looking like a construction site and to the Brickyard being designed as part of a usable park,” she said.

As the work is carried out in Richmond, some trails will be closed off but Point Pinole Regional Park will remain open. Shuttle service to the pier will also continue.

Andres Soto, a community organizer for Communities for a Better Environment in Richmond, said increasing park space creates a better environment for everyone.

“Wealthy people have the money to escape urban environments in holiday homes that the urban poor and working class don’t, so parks are the next best thing for them,” he said.

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