Last week, the city approved an agreement with University of California, Berkeley to dampen the impact of the upcoming Northeast Quadrant Project. The university is thrilled. But the city’s political leadership is not.
“I think it should have been stronger,” said Mayor Shirley Dean. “Unfortunately it wasn’t.”
Under the agreement UC Berkeley will, among other things, provide $35,000 to fund local transit programs, add $10,000 to its annual sewer payments to the city and replace six Hearst Ave. tennis courts that will be converted to parking spaces as part of the project.
The Northeast Quadrant venture, scheduled to begin this summer with utilities work, will include the replacement of two university buildings and the retrofit of three others, adding an estimated 325,000 square feet of research, office and teaching space to the campus.
The City Council set the stage for the settlement with a Feb. 19 decision, in closed session, to accept the university’s environmental impact report on the project, rather than challenge it in court.
Councilmember Linda Maio said she made a motion, seconded by Councilmember Kriss Worthington, to sue the university over the report. The council, she said, rejected the motion.
“I thought, strategically, this was the project to sue on,” Maio said, arguing that a lawsuit would have prompted the university to offer the city more in its mitigation package. “A lawsuit is a hassle. You might get more if you hassle.”
Other Councilmembers declined to discuss the closed session vote. But Councilmember Betty Olds suggested the settlement is the best the city could expect, given that the university, as a state entity, falls outside the city’s jurisdiction.
“I’m sure some will try to spin it that the city got a lot out of the deal,” countered Councilmember Kriss Worthington. “But if you look at the list, there’s not a lot there for the employees, or the students, or the city.”
Worthington said an ongoing concern is the university’s reluctance to provide its employees with a free transit pass, similar to the “Ecopass” the city provides its staff.
“The single biggest thing the University of California could do is the Ecopass for its employees,” Worthington said, arguing that greater use of public transit would reduce traffic in the area. “But they are declining to seriously discuss it.”
Worthington said the university’s offer of $35,000 for transit is inadequate to launch a significant Ecopass program.
“I’d say it’s a start,” responded Marie Felde, spokesperson for the university. She added that transit passes may not be the best way to reduce car trips to and from campus, and said the issue needs more study.
“The goal here is to reduce auto traffic,” Felde said. “However it could be most effectively done is what everyone wants.”
After heavy lobbying by neighbors and City Councilmembers the university agreed to replace the tennis courts, perched atop a Hearst Ave. parking lot and frequently used by the public.
The agreement does not specify a location for the replacement courts, but Felde said they will likely end up on the southside of campus.
Dean is unhappy with the proposed shift in location. “They should have left that alone,” she said.
Olds said she is looking for a northside plot for at least two or three of the courts.
“We’re certainly not going to give up,” Olds said. “We’re going to find a place.”
Councilmembers reached by the Planet agreed, uniformly, that the university did not offer enough to mitigate the impact of the project on the city’s sewer system.
Currently, under an agreement that will expire in 2005, the university pays $250,000 per year in sewer costs. Under the new settlement, UC Berkeley will up the payment to $260,000 in 2005.
Felde said the Northeast Quadrant project will increase campus square footage by 4%, noting that the $10,000 jump reflects that increase.