Four die-hard protesters, shaken but not stirred, ended 2006 encamped among the branches of a grove of grand old trees threatened by the city’s biggest developer.
Their symbolic gesture highlights UC Berkeley’s dominant role as both builder and destroyer—creator of massive, tax-exempt edifices and destroyer both of old buildings and of a fragile consensus.
The latest battle in the ongoing struggle between an increasingly overtaxed and understaffed city government and an university seen by some as imperial and sometimes imperious erupted over the university’s plans to embark on a massive expansion plan in the southeast quadrant of the main campus.
Among eight projects planned for the area are a major reconstruction of California Memorial Stadium, adding high, luxury skyboxes and new seating to an aging structure built in one of the most hazardous places possible—directly over the Bay Area’s hottest earthquake fault in a wildfire hazard area served by narrow, aging roads.
To build the first of those projects—a 132,500-square-foot, four-story high tech gym and office complex—university officials plan to demolish the city’s last remaining grove of flatland coastal live oaks, which triggered the protesters’ arboreal ascent and a trio of lawsuits.
And, as if to dramatize the conflict, the Hayward Fault ended the year with a swarm of spasms of its own, most originating from deep beneath the surface and centered scarcely a mile from the stadium.
But the Southeast Campus Integrated Projects (SCIP) isn’t the only source of conflict with the city. Immediately adjacent to the SCIP sites is Bowles Hall, a venerable residential hall the university wants to turn into posh living quarters for corporate executives taking classes at a new executive education center planned by the Haas School of Business.
More rooms would be provided in a second new structure, and a third building would house classrooms and office space for the program.
Another controversy centers on the university’s plans to add more than 800,000 square feet of new uses outside campus in the heart of downtown Berkeley—the central focus of the committee now working to formulate a new downtown plan for the city.
(A fourth controversy over university development plans is underway outside Berkeley’s city limits, where the university has temporarily shelved plans to develop a two-million-square-foot complex of corporate and academic research facilities planned for the school’s Richmond Field Station. For more on this project, see the article on East Bay development elsewhere in this issue.)
The university’s plans for downtown Berkeley—first unveiled in the Long Range Development Plan (LRDP) for 2020—sparked outrage and a lawsuit by the city that ultimately led to the settlement that mandated the current downtown planning effort.
The two major sites of planned projects are the block bounded by Oxford, Addison and Center Streets and Shattuck Avenue and the old state Department of Health Services (DHS) high-rise two blocks to the north.
Plans for two of the university’s major Center Street projects took major leaps forward in 2006.
Carpenter & Co., the Massachusetts firm chosen by the university to develop a hotel and meeting center, is moving on plans for a 19-story hotel at the corner of Shattuck and Center. That building will house both hotel rooms and condos, as well as meeting facilities and underground parking.
The university’s Berkeley Art Museum/Pacific Film Archive capped the year with a public introduction of Toyo Ito, the innovative Japanese architect chosen by the museum to design the building that will fill the eastern end of the block.
Unlike the museum complex, which remains under university ownership, the hotel and condos are considered a private development—and thus a source of substantial new revenue for city, county and state tax coffers.
Even without the new projects, the university remains a major property owner in downtown area.
Under California law, the university pays no property taxes on sites it owns, and the owners of space leased to the university pay no taxes on whatever portion of the site is used by the school for academic purposes.
However, spaces the university leases to private interests—often corporations working on university-related research projects—do pay a fee equivalent to the property tax that would be otherwise assessed.
The precise impacts of the 800,000 square feet of proposed university expansion downtown will depend in part on the amount of space that yields revenue to the city. Settlement of the LRDP lawsuit bars any further action by the city to collect through the courts.
Another condition of the settlement is playing out on the second floor of the North Berkeley Senior Center, where members of the Downtown Area Plan Advisory Committee (DAPAC) are formulating their recommendations for the new plan mandated in the LRDP accord.
The committee is charged by the City Council with submitting a draft plan no later than November 2007, or the university will deduct $15,000 for every month of delay from the university’s settlement-mandated $1.2 million annual payment to compensate the city for some of the impacts caused the expansion program. The university has also agreed to pay for half of the costs—up to $250,000—for conducting an environmental impact report on the new plan.
Some of the funds are paying the salary of Matt Taecker, the principal planner hired by the city to work on the plan.
Of the commission’s 21 voting members, three were picked by the Planning Commission from its own ranks and each city councilmember picked two.
Chair Will Travis, one of the two picks of Mayor Tom Bates, tried to keep a tight rein on members, but got off on the wrong foot when he invited UC to name four non-voting representatives to sit on DAPAC without asking the committee.
A small rebellion followed, and a confrontation with member Patti Dacey—one of his ongoing sources of agita. After admitting he’d goofed, Travis accepted the committee’s compromise number of three.
Travis also lost a battle to block a move by Planning Commission Chair Helen Burke to create a DAPAC subcommittee to focus on Center Street, and the block between Shattuck and Oxford that will house a university museum/film archive and the university-backed hotel.
When it came time for a vote, only Travis and DAPAC member Dororthy Walker opposed. Walker is a retired UC Berkeley executive.
One of the important issues the committee must confront is the role of preservation in the new plan—a battle Taecker recently told preservationists they had already won.
More controversy is sure to dog the committee during the year to come.
SCIP and not
While the city’s settlement of the LRDP lawsuit blocked any future legal challenges to most university projects, the agreement specifically excluded the Memorial Stadium area.
So the city could sue with impunity when elected and appointed officials became increasingly anxious at the scope of the projects included in the SCIP environmental impact report (EIR).
In addition to the gym—or Student Athlete High Performance Center—the university plans to build a 911-car underground parking lot northwest of the stadium and build a 186,000-square-foot “connection building” integrating faculty offices and meeting rooms for the Boalt Hall, the university’s law school, and the Haas School of Business.
A major issue yet to be resolved is whether the gym is structurally detached from Memorial Stadium, a question of both engineering and law. Critics note that the university’s EIR didn’t distinguish it from the stadium, in which case the addition would be barred by the Alquist-Priolo Act, which bars new building on or within 50 feet of active faults.
That same law bans renovations to affected buildings if they exceed half of the structure’s value. Project critics say that figure should be based on the stadium’s existing value, while the university insists that the basis should be replacement cost—two numbers that could vary by eight or nine figures.
The law also poses legal issues for Bowles Hall, which earlier studies have indicated intersects two separate “traces” of the Hayward Fault.
Major changes are also proposed to the Gayley Road streetscape, a city landmark and the creation of Frederick Law Olmsted, America’s premiere landscape architect and the designer of New York City’s Central Park.
The Bowles Hall project wasn’t included in the SCIP EIR, though critics, including Berkeley Planning and Development Director Dan Marks, have charged that the project should have been included with the others because California law bars “piecemealing” of major development projects.
City officials say they’re worried about traffic congestion that will arise both from construction itself, from an expanded events calendar at the stadium and from the other new buildings nearby.
But the biggest concerns involve public safety in the event of an earthquake or wildfire. A disaster during a major event would overtax limited city emergency services and cut off residents who live on Panoramic Hill above the stadium.
The Panoramic Hill Association filed one of the suits challenging the decision by UC Regents to approve the SCIP projects. A third was filed by the California Oaks Foundation, which challenges the proposed chainsawing of the grove.
A court hearing on the actions has been set for Thursday.