THE OVERVIEW: NORMAN LA FORCE ISN'T INTO PEOPLE USING THE PARKS
Norman La Force, now running for the board of directors of East Bay Regional Park District, has fought against giving people access to the parks for decades.
He comes from a position of scarcity: Wildlife and native plants are under stress, and every place or potential place that can be set aside for them must be.
This little-picture view is hostile to park users. It is oblivious to the fact that people need to experience Nature. Also, if they can't connect with the parks, they won't become stewards of them and they'll stop voting to pay for them. And it pretends that every tiny strip of beach or old landfill is the last stand for local species -- when those same species are often not bothered by human activity around them or are doing rather well in a more appropriate location nearby.
East Bay Regional Park District is almost 200 square miles of preserved open space, in 73 parks, straddling two counties. It has 58 miles of shoreline, two remote island bird sanctuaries, and several restricted marshes and preserves. People mostly nibble around the edges of that, mostly on the 1,250 miles of trails. If you add in EBMUD's watersheds, U.C. Berkeley's lands, and other holdings, some 300 square miles of open space is preserved across Contra Costa and Alameda Counties. Despite our environmental crises, we are blessed. Plants and animals are blessed.
There are many examples of Norman La Force killing or trying to kill kayaking, cycling, camping, kiteboarding, and other activities. He even went after the Berkeley High School women's crew team, trying to prevent them from practicing at Aquatic Park, as they have for decades without much apparent impact. (He said they might disturb rafting ducks. Never mind that there are a quarter of a million rafting ducks around the bay.) He was against the expansion of the waterslides concession at Shadow Cliffs Recreation Area, an old gravel quarry. He fought against bikers getting access to a few decades-old fire roads that were already heavily used by cattle.
The group he seems to get most agitated about is recreational dog walkers, a community he tends to vilify. He does not -- perhaps cannot -- differentiate between feral and free-roaming dogs in wilderness areas, which do harm wildlife, and an off-leash companion dog hiking with its person for 90 minutes on a trail in an urban-area park. He refuses to consider that things might be in fairly good balance, despite his convictions that they couldn't be. Scores of different bird species have been observed at the Albany Bulb, therefore it is much too sensitive to allow dogs at all, he says. BUT dogs have been out with their people at the Albany Bulb for decades, even living out there, AND there are scores of different bird species. (There shouldn't be, right? It and Point Isabel should be wastelands.)
It is remarkable, then, that Mr. La Force is running as the person who "led the drive to double the Point Isabel Dog Park" in 2002. He is claiming credit, 20 years later, for the very thing he tried to prevent: off-leash recreation on North Point Isabel.
The many exhibits that follow unpack that lie.
EXHIBIT A: LA FORCE'S OWN BOOK REVEALS HIS TRUE FEELINGS ABOUT OFF-LEASH DOGS (2002)
Norman La Force has fought against recreational dog walking for decades.
At the same time he was supposedly working to "double the size of the Point Isabel Dog Park," he was trying to slash an off-leash area at Cesar Chavez Park, Berkeley, in half. Read his own words above: the proposed off-leash area was a problem, he says, because dogs can harm wildlife, habitat, and small children.
It's absurd to think that Mr. La Force was trying to make the world safer by cutting the Cesar Chavez Park off-leash area from 20 to 10 acres -- while simultaneously working to double the "Point Isabel Dog Park" from 23 to about 50 acres.
And, of course, he wasn't. Point Isabel and North Point Isabel both still allow off-leash recreation despite Mr. La Force, not because of him. The paper trail is clear:
* Sierra Club passed a resolution in August 2000 against East Bay Regional Park District (EBRPD) operating dog parks at all
* In 2001, Sierra Club sent a mailing to all members urging them to support its "Conservation and Habitat Restoration Plan" that would have banned off-leash recreation on North Point Isabel (the half of the park Mr. La Force now claims to have led the drive to keep off-leash)
* In October 2001, Mr. La Force wrote to EBRPD asking for signs to be posted on North Point Isabel preemptively banning off-leash dogs. (EBRPD declined.)
* After the park planners presented their Preferred Park Concept in March 2002, which included North Point Isabel as off-leash, Mr. La Force wrote to them about how disappointed he was with that decision
* For the next few months, until Eastshore State Park was approved, he continued to argue -- sometimes angrily -- for conservation everywhere over recreation. At no point did he cite off-leash recreation at Point Isabel/North Point Isabel as a positive aspect of the new park, nor take credit for it. (That happened later, when he first ran for the EBRPD board in 2008.)
Visual above from page 114 of Norman La Force's book, Creating Eastshore Park: An Activist History.
EXHIBIT B: THE BACKSTORY ON POINT ISABEL
Point Isabel Regional Shoreline was established in the mid-1970s on former landfill as mitigation by the USPS for building its large Bulk Mail Center on the bay shoreline. It was agreed that East Bay Regional Park District (EBRPD) would manage the park.
Between 1985 and 1987, Point Isabel Dog Owners negotiated with EBRPD the off-leash recreation rules still in effect today.
Also in the mid-1980s, North Point Isabel (on the north side of Hoffman Channel), a toxic dump, was remediated for large quantities of lead and zinc. Park visitors began using both halves of the park seamlessly, as one park. Since then, Point Isabel Regional Shoreline has been a multi-use park that allows off-leash dogs and is popular with windsurfers, kayakers, joggers, birdwatchers, fishermen, and more. It is not a dog park. EBRPD doesn't operate dog parks.
North Point Isabel was privately owned by a railroad corporation until it was folded into Eastshore State Park. (That's where the so-called doubling of the park comes from...it doubled on paper, when ownership changed. Nothing else changed.)
Many people and organizations worked on purchasing parcels of land up and down the shoreline to knit together Eastshore State Park. There was no special campaign to buy North Point Isabel, let alone to buy it for the benefit of recreational dog walkers. Norman La Force's only involvement was in lobbying to ban off-leash recreation on North Point Isabel -- and now, 20 years later, claiming credit for what he tried to prevent.
EXHIBIT C: SIERRA CLUB ISSUES RESOLUTION OBJECTING TO EBPRD OPERATING DOG PARKS AT ALL (AUGUST 30, 2000)
Mr. La Force seems to be under the impression that Point Isabel Regional Shoreline is a dedicated dog park, rather than a multi-use park -- which makes his claim to have doubled it even more perplexing.
According to Sierra Club's own policies -- driven by Mr. La Force -- he should not have had any role in supporting, let alone doubling, any "dog park" on EBRPD land.
On August 30, 2000, Sierra Club passed a resolution declaring that EBRPD should not "create exclusive dog run areas which result in other park users feeling that those special areas are off limits to them and are a special preserve for a special user group."
The same set of resolutions also opposed an off-leash area anywhere on 2.5-mile Crown Beach and the proposed 20-acre off-leash area at Cesar Chavez Park, Berkeley. For a pdf of the document, click here.
EXHIBIT D: SIERRA CLUB MAILING PUSHES A PLAN THAT BANS OFF-LEASH RECREATION AT NORTH PI (2001)
Mr. La Force pushed an aggressive conservation vision for the future Eastshore State Park, despite the need to balance preservation and recreation along the crowded urban shoreline. The reality was, too, that most of the dry "land" in the park was landfill, not pristine open space.
Sierra Club's "Conservation and Habitat Restoration Plan" would have restricted recreation in general and dog walking in particular. Off-leash dog walking (orange on the map) would have been cut back to just the off-leash area at Cesar Chavez Park and Point Isabel proper. Recreation on North Point Isabel (dark green) would have been restricted, and existing off-leash recreation would have been reduced from about 50 to just 23 acres.
View the complete document here.
EXHIBIT E: LA FORCE TRIES TO GET OFF-LEASH DOGS BANNED ON NORTH POINT ISABEL BEFORE THE STATE PARK IS EVEN ESTABLISHED (OCTOBER 15, 2001)
In October 2001, more than a year before the public process had been completed and Eastshore State Park had even been created, Mr. La Force asked EBRPD to preemptively post signs on North Point Isabel banning off-leash recreation.
For a pdf of the letter, click here.
EXHIBIT F: EBRPD REMINDS LA FORCE THAT EASTSHORE STATE PARK IS INTENDED TO PROVIDE RECREATION, TOO (NOVEMBER 1, 2001)
EBRPD denied Mr. La Force's request to preemptively ban off-leash dogs on North Point Isabel, Albany Beach, and the Berkeley meadow (as well as the sale of pumpkins and Christmas trees at the Berkeley Meadow). It points out that the money to acquire Eastshore Stat Park has the objective of meeting "the Park's fundamental purpose of being a recreational facility harmonious with its natural setting."
EXHIBIT G: PARK PLANNERS BLESS RECREATION ON NORTH POINT ISABEL (MARCH 21, 2002)
The Eastshore State Park Preferred Park Concept was presented to the public at a March 21, 2002 workshop hosted by California State Parks, California Coastal Conservancy, and EBPRD. It preserved off-leash recreational dog walking on North Point Isabel.
Park users had worked hard to make that happen. They had presented park planners with 20,000 signatures in support of continued recreation, including off-leash recreational dog walking.
EXHIBIT H: NORMAN LA FORCE REITERATES OPPOSITION TO OFF-LEASH RECREATION ON NORTH POINT ISABEL (MARCH 26, 2002)
Mr. La Force should have been delighted at the success of his campaign to "double the size of the Point Isabel Dog Park." He was not.
The week after the park planners presented their Preferred Park Concept, which included off-leash recreation on North Point Isabel (also known as Battery Point), Mr. La Force wrote to them that, "We are equally disappointed with the failure to protect the Battery Point and to turn it over to unleashed dog use."
For a pdf of the letter, click here.
EXHIBIT I: PLANNERS EXPLAIN WHY MAX CONSERVATION (LOOK BUT DON'T TOUCH) VISION WAS WRONG FOR EASTSHORE STATE PARK (JULY 2002)
In July 2002, California State Park, EBRPD, and California Coastal Conservancy issued a public review draft of the Eastshore Park Project General Plan Environmental Impact Report. It discussed alternatives that had been considered but rejected. The Maximum Conservation Alternative was rejected because it made the park effectively all "look but don't touch." As the planners put it:
"This alternative would not promote opportunities for aquatic recreation activities and would result in a waterfront park in which most visitors can observe, but not experience, the aquatic portions of the project because of the restrictions to watercraft activities and a lack of facilities for and in support of recreation uses of the water. Upland recreational uses, with the exception of birdwatching and trail use, would essentially be eliminated."
And, of course, off-leash recreation on North Point Isabel would have been prohibited.
EXHIBIT J: LA FORCE TELLS PLANNERS OFF, SAYS JUST OBSERVING NATURE FROM A DISTANCE IS AN EXPERIENCE (JULY 2002)
Mr. La Force responded angrily. He told the the state park planning team that their assessment that the maximum conservation alternative didn't allow the public to actually experience the park but just to observe it was a "value judgement" and that it lacked "any rational, scientific, or empirical basis for its use as a means of rejecting the maximum conservation alternative." Some of the most valuable experiences are from observation of wildlife, he said.
He was also unhappy that the park planners had not adopted the slightly less restrictive alternative that Sierra Club and Citizens for Eastshore Parks had provided (the aforementioned "Conservation and Habitat Restoration Plan"). That plan, he noted, would have allowed some access to or "experience" (his quotes) of the aquatic portions of the park.
But that plan, too, would have killed recreational dog walking on North Point Isabel.
And, once again, Mr. La Force was silent about his drive to "double the size of the Point Isabel Dog Park."
EXHIBIT K: LA FORCE DOESN'T MENTION DOUBLING "POINT ISABEL DOG PARK" AMONG THE GOOD THINGS ABOUT NEW PARK (AUGUST 1, 2002)
Mr. La Force's critique of Eastshore State Park's Draft General Plan included a section titled, "The Positive Aspects of the Draft Plan." He didn't mention doubling the "Point Isabel Dog Park" nor take credit for it.
View a pdf of Mr. La Force's letter to the EBRPD board of directors here.
EXHIBIT L: LA FORCE ASKS FOR ALL DOGS, ON-LEASH OR OFF-LEASH, TO BE BANNED EVERYWHERE ELSE IN THE 8.5-MILE PARK (AUGUST 1, 2002)
However, in a section called "Dogs," Mr. La Force complained that "Who Let the Dogs Out" could become "the theme song for the Park."
Having lost the fight to make North Point Isabel on-leash, he demanded that EBRPD ban dogs (even leashed dogs) everywhere else in the 8.5-mile park, including the Brickyard; the Meadow; Albany Bulb, Beach, Neck and Plateau; and the Hoffman Marsh trail.
He also complains about too many trails, too much water access, too much parking, and too many facilities (bathrooms, places to eat, places to store kayaks).
EXHIBIT M: LA FORCE DOESN'T MENTION HOW GREAT IT IS THAT THE "POINT ISABEL DOG PARK" HAS BEEN DOUBLED (DECEMBER 6, 2002)
At the December 6, 2002 public meeting at which the state park commissioners approved Eastshore State Park, Norman La Force mentioned important aspects of the new park but did not mention the doubling of the "Point Isabel Dog Park" nor his role in having made that happen.
From the minutes of the California State Park and Recreation Commission of the meeting on December 6, 2002, that established Eastshore State Park (now McLaughlin Eastshore State Park).
EXHIBIT N: LA FORCE RUNS FOR EBRPD BOARD, SUDDENLY IS THE ONE WHO KEPT NORTH POINT ISABEL OFF-LEASH
In 2008, Norman La Force first ran for the East Bay Regional Park District Board and took credit for "doubling the size of the Point Isabel Dog Park."
Many park visitors had been involved in the public hearings and in gathering the 20,000 signatures that actually "doubled the size of the Point Isabel Dog Park."
Mr. La Force lost to the late Whitney Dotson.
Screenshot from www.laforceofcourse.org from 2008.
EXHIBIT O: NORMAN LA FORCE TELLS US HOW HE REALLY FEELS ABOUT DOGS AND THEIR PEOPLE
Click on photo to view video.
This example and the two that follow are provided for context. Do they sound like a leader who welcomes people into the parks, appreciates all points of view, and works constructively toward compromise? You be the judge.
In 2011, Mr. La Force tried to ban all dog walking on the Albany Bulb.
In this video from an Albany Waterfront Committee meeting on February 11, 2011, he testified wearily about his extensive experience with "issues dealing with dog use."
When he says that he warned the Albany Waterfront Committee that "this is what you were going to get," he's referring to the 52 members of the public who spoke in favor of recreational dog walking at the Albany waterfront. (Four spoke against it.) He asserted that dogs disenfranchise other park visitors and devastate the environment.
EXHIBIT P: LA FORCE GOES AFTER RECREATION ON ALBANY BEACH (2014)
In 2014, Mr. La Force sued EBRPD to kick dogs and kiteboarders off Albany Beach.
The judge threw out the kiteboarder complaint and Mr. La Force eventually lost the dogs lawsuit, too. His legal actions delayed the Albany Beach Restoration and Public Access Project for about two years and the completion of the Bay Trail between Gilman and Buchanan Streets even longer.
EBRPD has 11 freshwater and saltwater swimming lagoons and beaches on which dogs are banned. (Including 2.5-mile Crown Beach in Alameda; a small off-leash area was proposed there in 2000, and Sierra Club passed a resolution opposing it.) All East Bay taxpayers pay for those facilities and most never use them -- but many park visitors of all kinds do want to visit the water's edge with their family dog.
Mr. La Force apparently sees no place for that within EBRPD. Before suing EBRPD, he made no attempt to find a compromise. He has not identified other beaches that might be made available for recreational dog walkers. He complains about people with dogs disenfranchising other (presumably more worthy) park users, and his attorney for this lawsuit even called people with dogs "illegitimate users."
EXHIBIT Q: LA FORCE PREVENTS ROUTINE MOWING OF OFF-LEASH AREA AT CESAR CHAVEZ PARK, MAKES BERKELEY SPEND $15,000 FIRST (JULY 9, 2014)
Mr. La Force even tried to prevent the City of Berkeley from mowing the off-leash area at Cesar Chavez Park when it had become dangerously overgrown with invasive foxtails.
According to the account in his book Creating Eastshore Park: An Activist History. Mr. La Force opposed having an off-leash area at Cesar Chavez Park in the first place. Then he worked to at least make it smaller. Sierra Club's resolutions of August 30, 2000, show that Club wanted the proposed 20 acres to be no more than 10 to 12 acres. Sierra Club also insisted on a biological resource assessment of the future off-leash area before the ribbon could be cut.
As context: Cesar Chavez Park was created on Berkeley's old municipal dump, not pristine open space. That first biological resource assessment exercise cost about $15,000. Predictably, it found no plants or animals of concern.
Almost 20 years later, when the neglected off-leash area was so overgrown that it was unusable and dangerous, park users lobbied Berkeley to do long-overdue maintenance. (The area had been frequently mowed in the past. Much of Cesar Chavez Park is mowed regularly.) Mr. La Force, on behalf of Sierra Club, inserted himself. He went directly to the mayor and city council to insist on a second biological resource assessment first. Of a long-established off-leash area. That was choked with invasive weeds. On an old landfill.
That second biological resource assessment again found no animals or plants of concern. It did keep park users from being able to use the off-leash area for several more weeks, and it cost Berkeley taxpayers another $15,000.
EXHIBIT R: LA FORCE RUNS FOR EBRPD BOARD AGAIN, POSITIONS HIMSELF AS CHAMPION OF RECREATIONAL DOG WALKING (2020)
Norman La Force is running again for the East Bay Regional Park District board of directors, claiming again to have led "the Sierra Club campaign to have EBRPD purchase more land to double the size of the Point Isabel Dog Park."
He has good environmental cred. He should have stuck to that. He didn't have to falsify his resume with an attempt to mislead the very voters he has worked against for decades.
Or maybe he did.
Screenshot from www.laforceofcourse.org from 2020. Click to enlarge.
EXHIBIT S: LA FORCE AND HIS SUPPORTERS KNOW HE'S LYING, AND THEY KNOW WE KNOW (AUGUST 4, 2020)
Mr. La Force is well-aware that he is not telling the truth. So is Sierra Club, and all of the organizations that have worked closely with him for many years.
The Conservation and Habitat Restoration Plan that would have banned off-leash dogs from North Point Isabel was jointly developed by Sierra Club and Citizens for Eastshore Park (now Citizens for East Shore Parks). The 2001 mailing to all Sierra Club members also went out in the names of Golden Gate Audubon Society and Save the Bay. Those organizations were often copied on Mr. La Force's missives. They are all apparently willing to look the other way.
Some, apparently, find Mr. La Force's current positioning as a champion of recreational dog walking quite amusing. It is not.
On August 4, 2000, a member of the public let Sierra Club leadership know that Mr. La Force is not telling the truth and is using Sierra Club's name in the deception. The communication went to the San Francisco Bay Chapter chair; the executive, legislative, and endorsement teams; Mr. La Force; Executive Director Michael Brune; and others.
Sierra Club and Mr. La Force did not respond. Sierra Club continues to let Mr. La Force use its name to claim credit for a Sierra Club campaign that never existed.
Click on the image to see the full ad. Click here for a pdf of Richmond Community News, Issue One.
EXHIBIT T: LA FORCE MAILS THE LIE TO EVERY VOTER IN RICHMOND (2020)
In September, the first issue of Richmond Community News was produced, with a focus on Point Molate and Mr. La Force.
Mr. La Force's campaign ad in that publication doubles down on the lie that he led "the effort to create the McLaughlin Eastshore State Park and double the size of the Point Isabel Dog Park." It was mailed to all Richmond residents.
Click here for a pdf of the newsletter.