Opposition mounts against BNSF plan for Miller/Knox park

Community opposition mounts against BNSF plan for Miller/Knox
Robert Doyle (speaking at microphone), General Manager of the East Bay Regional Park District, presents to Richmond City Council on Tuesday, May 21, alongside Alex Knox (far right), chief of staff, Mayor Tom Butt’s Office; Brian Holt (second from right), chief of planning for the park district and East Bay Regional Park District Board member Colin Coffey (far left). (All photos by Mike Kinney)

Community leaders and residents packed Richmond City Council Chambers on Tuesday to protest a plan by BNSF to reactivate a long-dormant rail line within Miller/Knox Regional Shoreline Park.

Both the City Council and the Contra Costa County Board of Supervisors voted unanimously Tuesday in support of similar resolutions that oppose reactivating the rail line. The resolution also sides with the East Bay Regional Park District in its legal dispute with BNSF over the rail line within Miller/Knox.

The park district recently developed a land use plan amendment for the scenic shoreline park in Point Richmond that includes turning the long-unmaintained rail line into a segment of the San Francisco Bay Trail. BNSF, however, opposes that plan and indicated an intention to reactivate the rail line in the near future due to expanding business at the Richmond Terminal.

Coalition to rail against BNSF plan for Miller/Knox park Tuesday
Miller-Knox Regional Shoreline Park

BNSF offered a “joint-use solution” that would move the rail line away from the shore, allowing for the construction of a trail in the current rail line location and creating a safety buffer for trail users. Contra Costa County Supervisor John Gioia spoke out against that proposal Tuesday, saying train emissions will remain harmful to park users no matter where the tracks are located in the park.

Mayor Tom Butt and Councilmember Demnlus Johnson III introduced Tuesday’s resolution opposing the plan. Speaking in support of their resolution at the meeting were Gioia, retired Congressman George Miller as well as representatives of local neighborhood councils, the local nonprofit Yes Nature to Neighborhoods, Assemblymember Buffy Wick’s office, the West County Sierra Club, Trails for Richmond Action Committee and United Native Americans.

BNSF representatives were not present at the council meeting. In a statement provided to the Standard in March, a company official called the park tracks an active rail line that BNSF and its predecessors have owned for over 100 years. BNSF says the park district’s present plan to remove the tracks and build a pedestrian and cycling trail faces both “regulatory and environmental hurdles.”

Robert Doyle, general manager of the East Bay Regional Park District, disputes that characterization, saying the land has for decades been the property of the park district and city and is no longer an industrial site with rail uses.

Gioia called BNSF’s plan “unsafe, unhealthy and unfair” after decades of community advocacy and investment that turned Miller/Knox from an industrial site to a shoreline jewel.

Contra Costa County Supervisor John Gioia speaks against BNSF rail plans for Miller/Knox Shoreline Park at the Richmond City Council meeting on Tuesday, May 22, 2019.

“This is a matter of urgency for the community, and success is imperative,” said Congressman Miller, who called the park an important asset for local families.

“We use this park. We would love to continue to use this park in a very safe manner,” said Joe Fisher, president of the Coronado Neighborhood Council. “We will not be able to do this a train running right through the middle of this park.”

Bruce Beyaert, co-founder and chair of the Trails for Richmond Action Committee, said there’s “no reason to run trains out there.”

“BNSF has really gone off the tracks with this plan,” he said. “Don’t let them railroad the city of Richmond.