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Temblor Punctuates Debate Over Stadium

By Richard Brenneman
Friday December 22, 2006

Raked by a legal broadside, the University of California beat a temporary retreat Wednesday, agreeing to halt development at Memorial Stadium pending a hearing in Alameda County Superior Court. 

The move grants a short reprieve to the grove of oaks and other threatened trees west of the stadium where four protesters are camped out in the branches in protest over the impending loss of the last remaining grove of coastal live oaks in the Berkeley plains. 

The tentative date for the first hearing on the actions is Jan. 11, reports Berkeley City Council-member Dona Spring, a co-plaintiff in an action filed by the California Oaks Foundation. 

“The university has agreed to stop from doing anything further until a hearing on a preliminary injunction,” said City Attorney Manuela Albuquerque. 

Just hours after university officials agreed to the delay, project foes got a boost from Mother Nature, as if in punctuation of the claims of foes that it makes no sense to spending hundreds of millions building on an active fault. 

At 7:12 p.m. the Hayward Fault fired off the first of a pair sharp jolts, followed at 12:55 a.m. by a second, smaller shock—both with epicenters less than 1.2 miles southeast of the stadium. 

The first single, sharp jolt hit 3.7 on the 10-point Richter scale. The second rated a feebler 2.2. 

The first temblor, felt as far away as Las Vegas, Nev.—659 miles southeast—and Eugene, Ore., 689 miles to the north—was more than 1,000 times weaker than the Hayward Fault shocker that U.S. Geological Survey seismologists say has a one in five chance of happening in the next two decades. 

“Maybe that will shake some sense into them,” said Spring, referring to University officials, “though it seems like nothing will deter these guys until they see the chucks of concrete falling into the stadium.” 

“Hopefully it knocked some sense into them” said City Manager Phil Kamlarz, who also reported the only damage so far reported to the paper—a vase that shattered when it fell off a shelf in his house. 

In a sworn statement filed with the city’s action, Deputy Fire Chief David P. Orth called the stadium project “a disaster waiting to happen.” 

“The location of the Stadium ... on an active earthquake fault in a hazardous fire area and listed by State and Federal officials as a high-risk target served by a limited and convoluted road network makes no sense,” said the 28-year veteran of Berkeley disasters. 

The California Oaks Foun-dation filed Tuesday, the same day as the city filed its action and a week after the first lawsuit, which was filed by the Panoramic Hill Association, which represents neighbors on the slope overlooking the site where the university plans projects totaling more than a third of a billion dollars. 

Also joining with the Oaks Foundation suit were Spring, Doug Buckwald, Sara Shumer, Henry Norr, Lindsay Vurek, Patricia Edwards, Anne Marie Tayllor, Stan and Carrie Sprague and the McGee-Spaulding-Hardy Historic Interest Group. 

Mike Kelly, an officer of the Panoramic Hills Association, said he was pleased with the delay, especially in light of Wednesday night’s quake. “The university recognizes the importance of this case as do we. The fundamental issues of constructing major additions on top of the Hayward Fault have yet to be addressed.” 

Kelley said he and neighbors felt Wednesday night’s quake “quite strongly.” 


Tree shaker  

The tree-sitters survived the quake in good shape, even the two who were making a traverse from tree to tree on ropes strung between the trunks high above the ground. “Those two didn’t even feel it,” said Doug Buckwald, the volunteer who has been coordinating ground support for arboreal activists. 

Pending the outcome of the January court ruling, the university has granted a stay of execution to the trees, but that doesn’t mean peace in the branches or for the ground crew, said Buckwald 

“UC Police are back to their aggressive tactics,” he said, including the arrival at 1:30 Thursday morning of two campus police cars and a third car from the Kensington Police Department. “They had backed off last weekend, but they’re back again and asking to see the IDs of everybody on the ground. 

“The Kensington police brought an infrared camera and were taping everything up in the trees,” Buckwald said. “What’s next, LAPD? They could fly ’em by helicopter,” he said. 

Nonetheless, Buckwald said he was glad the trees had been granted a temporary reprieve. 

“We are pleased that the university has agreed to delay implementation of this ill-conceived project,” said Janet Cobb, executive director of the California Oaks Foundation in a prepared statement. 

Handling the foundation’s suit is Oakland attorney Stephan Volker, who said “We are gratified the university has agreed to pull back the chainsaws and bulldozers while the court examines the merit of our lawsuit.” 


Legal basis 

As do the other suits, the city’s action, accompanied by supporting affidavits from officials, charges that UC regents adopted an error-ridden environmental impact report and wrongly approved construction of the $125 million gym and office complex planned at the site of the grove. 

The stadium and gym are two of seven projects included in the environmental impact reports approved by UC Regents Dec. 5. 

All three lawsuits make the same basic allegations: “The university’s plans violate the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) and the Alquist-Priolo Act,” said Oaks Foundation attorney Stephan Volker. 

CEQA requires developers demonstrate either that their projects post no significant threats to the natural, human and cultural environments, or, if so, that mitigations be developed to keep them to a minimum. 

Alquist-Priolo bars new construction within 50 feet of an active earthquake fault, the Oaks Foundation lawsuit features a geologist’s declaration that the Student Athlete High Performance Center (SAHPC) does, in fact, fall within that zone, as does the stadium itself. 

The other suits make the same allegation. 

Volker said the university’s environmental impact report (EIR) failed to adequately address the impact of demolishing “a venerable remnant of California Live Oaks believed by many professionals to be a significant ecological niche which should be preserved.” 

That point is also reiterated in the city’s motion. 

The proposed mitigations—which included planting new saplings—fail to make good for the losses of that last stand of native oaks in the Berkeley flats, Volker said. 

The city’s action, prepared by Sacramento attorney Harriet Steiner, includes sworn declarations from Orth, Planning and Development Director Dan Marks, Associate Traffic Engineer Peter Eakland and Assistant City Manager Arietta Chakos. 

Orth’s declaration was the scorcher. 

The city’s 26-page petition also alleges that the university: 

• Failed to offer reasonable alternatives to building the SAHPC next to the stadium, or to retrofitting the stadium itself; 

• Failed to analyze project impacts on the city and public; 

• Failed to offer reasonable mitigation measures; 

• Failed to comply with Alquist-Priolo by maintaining the gym is separate from the stadium, when it is not, contradicting earlier drafts of the EIR; 

• Violates Alquist-Priolo by calling for projects that exceed the law’s limitation that no work on projects within fault zones can exceed 50 percent of the structure’s value; 

• Failed to give the public and officials adequate information during the comment period during preparation of the EIR; 

• Approved the EIR even though six of the seven projects it includes haven’t been designed; 

• Failed to adequately consider the impact of the projects on city services and infrastructure, especially emergency services, transportation and sewers; 

• Offered flawed analysis that “misstates the true significance of the project’s impacts” that include emergency evacuations during fires and following earthquakes.