(adopted from Susan Schwartz's "A walk on the Ohlone Greenway and Lower Codornices Creek" 7/24/99 for Berkeley Path Wanderers)

The first transcontinental railroad, the Southern Pacific, reached the Bay in 1869 and had such a monopoly on the Oakland waterfront that the Atcheson, Topeka, and Santa Fe, ending its transcontinental crossing via the San Joaquin Valley about 1900, was forced inland, and had to build its ferry pier at Point Richmond. (The pier, at Ferry Point, was used for freight until 1984. It is now part of Miller-Knox Regional Park and open to the public.)

The Santa Fe then built a 9.2 mile spur to Oakland, partly by buying out the failing, narrow-gauge California and Nevada Railroad and converting it to standard gauge. This Oakland Local began service in 1904. Starting from near Garrard Street in Richmond, it ran south just east of Ohio Street to about MacDonald at the present Richmond-El Cerrito boundary, and then south on the present BART alignment to Berkeley. In Berkeley, starting from the north, it entered the city on the present BART right of way, crossed present Cedar-Rose Park, continued on undeveloped West Street (between Chestnut and Franklin) to the landmark Mission-fantasy station, now a restaurant, just south of University. It continued through today’s Strawberry Creek Park, angled southeast through back yards to reach Sacramento at Oregon Street, and then left the city on Sacramento.

In 1938, the Santa Fe was one of the first railroads to convert from steam engines to streamlined diesel-electric trains. But with the decline in passenger traffic (especially after the Bay Bridge opened in 1936) and the later decline in freight traffic, the Oakland spur line became unprofitable. Its 40-odd at-grade crossings and its route through residential areas plagued Berkeley in particular. By the 1960s it was evident that the line’s days were numbered.

A Berkeley proposal in 1965 to acquire the right of way as part of an urban-redevelopment project failed to pass the City Council; those were the days that the nation was turning against big redevelopment projects. Between 1970 and 1973, Berkeley voters turned down three bond issues to buy the right-of-way for a linear park and trail. Measure Y, a general-purpose Berkeley park bond issue that passed in 1974, would have paid for the right of way. But this turned out to be unnecessary. In 1976, the Santa Fe sought ICC permission to shift its freight traffic to the SP tracks and abandon the Oakland Local line. The request was OK’d in 1978, and in 1979 the railway gave the land to the cities it ran through. Berkeley got its portion in exchange for not requiring the railroad to build streets on it.

In the meantime, BART had come along, officially breaking ground in 1964. The Fremont line opened in 1972. The Richmond line opened over a year later, in 1973, delayed by the fact that Berkeley voters had taxed themselves to put the line underground to north of the Berkeley BART station. The Transbay Tube finally opened in 1974.

In Albany and El Cerrito, BART paralleled the Santa Fe right-of-way. In Albany and El Cerrito, this became a landscaped linear park, the Ohlone Greenway. Albany’s section is broader and more attractive than El Cerrito’s, but there are some interesting sections in El Cerrito, including crossings by two branches of Cerrito Creek, a recently daylighted bit of creek near El Cerrito’s City Hall, and a garden featuring plants that have been around since the Jurassic.

In Richmond, the Metropolitan Transportation Commission has just approved a large grant to design the continuation of the greenway along the old Santa Fe Oakland Local right of way. This runs just east of Ohio Street to Garrard, just southwest of Richmond’s downtown and through residential back yards, partly along BART tracks at grade. The project has been a spearheaded by CYCLE, the Community Youth Council for Leadership and Education. It could also daylight and beautify part of Baxter Creek in Richmond and El Cerrito

To get back to Berkeley, by 1979 Berkeley had 3.2 miles of right of way but couldn’t decide what to do with it. The north portion was relatively easy: at the urging of neighbors, the city built a rather minimal trail from North Berkeley BART through 3-acre Cedar-Rose Park (acquired with Measure Y funds and largely on former Santa Fe property). Berkeley also added some parking and tennis, basketball, and volleyball courts. The community garden at the Hopkins Peralta triangle was created in the early 1980s, largely with state funds. (It was renamed Karl Linn Community Gardens in 1993, in honor of Berkeley resident Karl Linn’s nationwide efforts for community gardens). Interestingly, the two gardens in triangles left over where BART comes above ground were recommended by a 1977 Berkeley task force planning for the right of way. But these Peralta and Northside gardens weren’t created until 1997, 20 years later. This was organized by Karl Linn, with city funds and lots of lots of donations, as you can see from the thank-yous at the gardens. The latest addition to this complex is the Eco-House, 1305 Hopkins, an ecological demonstration home planned as a showcase for art, ecology, and horticulture. With a grant from the Association of American Landscape Architects, this stretch of trail is to be improved, especially with displays and information on history concentrating on modes of travel. For information on all this, contact Karl Linn at 841-3757 or Berkeley Community Gardening Collaborative, 883-9096.

A wide portion of the Santa Fe right of way from Addison to north of Bancroft became Strawberry Creek Park. The city’s pioneer creek-daylighting project, unearthing Strawberry Creek from the railroad culvert there, launched Urban Creeks Council and all subsequent local creek-daylighting efforts.