Most of the past 20 Independence Days I have watched the Redwood City fireworks, usually from a boat kept at Pete’s Harbor. Pete’s is the marina all the way at the Bay-end of the road, many twists and turns and name changes after Whipple Avenue crosses Highway 101.
Each of those Fourths of July, I’ve seen hundreds of cars pull into Pete’s Harbor, filling then overfilling the parking lots, and carrying hundreds of families arriving for a picnic with a view of the fireworks.
Even the two recent years that the fireworks were canceled because of city budget trouble, many cars came and then went away disappointed.
This year, the disappointment was much deeper. Yes, there would be fireworks, but no, there is no more Pete’s Harbor.
Instead, they found a sign stating “private parking only,” fences, barbed wire and armed guards at the new gate. The public was not allowed in, even though the parking lots were empty and the picnic spots were waiting. The guards turned all the general public away.
I was there starting late afternoon on the Fourth to hand out fliers for a group (Save Pete’s Harbor, www.savepetesharbor.net) working to keep a public access marina open on the state-owned part of the marina known as the Outer Harbor.
I spent most of the afternoon helping confused and frustrated families and groups of friends find alternative picnicking and viewing spots. At first, I gave directions to the Port of Redwood City, until one driver said that was already full and closed off, then I pointed out the very limited public access parking nearby and the new footbridge onto partially reopened Bair Island with its walking trail. When those few parking spots filled up, and with evening coming, cars started parking where ever they could find room. It grew chaotic.
By dusk, there were many dozens of people out on the island. One woman struggled with the bridge and dirt path in her walker. Another family agonized over having to leave their disabled grandfather in the car, when they’d hoped to park in the harbor where there was a view.
In addition to giving directions, of course, I was able to give out the fliers. The revelers were horrified to hear what is happening to Pete’s Harbor, which they have loved visiting for up to half a century.
A private developer, Pauls Corp., is in the process of purchasing the land to build 411 units of luxury apartments. Pete’s widow has applied for permits to completely remove the docks, pilings and other marina infrastructure. Pauls Corp.’s plan calls for removing the uniquely nautical Waterfront Cafe (formerly Harbor House) restaurant and including only a token amount of new public access parking, and only a walking/bike path along part of the waterfront instead of the former ample publicly accessible open space.
Save Pete’s Harbor accepts Pete’s heirs’ right to sell the private land, and Pauls Corps’ right to develop within zoning limits. However, we object strenuously to the loss of public access to publicly-owned resources that destroying the marina causes. The development can go on the land, but the marina must stay open on the water. A marina will require a little more parking to be added to the plan, but as Independence Day showed, more public access parking will be enormously appreciated by the wider community who love so much to visit this spot.
The public deserves the right to access their waterfront, as they have for so many years. We hope that a sensible compromise will prevent this from being the end of the road for iconic Pete’s Harbor.
Rick Drain is the treasurer for Save Pete’s Harbor. He lives in Alameda.