Nestled in the heart of Berkeley, with hills sloping above it and a creek skipping through it, the 134-year-old Berkeley campus of the University of California is one of the most renown places of learning in the world.
In September 1873, when the university moved from its temporary quarters in Oakland to the town that would be chartered as the city of Berkeley in 1878, there were 191 students. There were more cows, goats and sheep on the farms than residents in the town – just around 2,000 – in the 1870s.
There were few stores, some muddy roads and no practicing physician in the area when the university opened its doors, so some faculty members opted to continue to live in Oakland. The Regents arranged to provide horsecar service for them so they could get to their classes, writes Verne Stadtman in “The University of California 1868-1968.”
In contrast, the prestigious 178-acre university today schools 30,000 students and brings 10,000 faculty and staff daily to its hallowed halls.
The city’s 110,000 residents live in the confines of 18 square miles.
As the university and city grow according to their own needs, clash is inevitable. No longer confined to the 178-acre central campus area, the university’s printing facility and parking garage are just west of campus. The university took over the former School for the Deaf to the south, renamed it the Clark Kerr campus, and now has conference facilities and housing there. The university has a number of student services and residence halls to the south of the university proper. It owns property on the Berkeley/Oakland/Emeryville border, where the biotech company DNA Plant Technology is located, and it owns property in Albany, where family housing is provided.
When the university buys property in the city, it creates a particular problem: Those properties are taken off the city’s tax roles. Armstrong College on Harold Way, for example, was bought by the university and now houses extension courses. Loss of these revenues is a city concern.
Finally, state law exempts the university from adhering to the city’s zoning laws. So the university, if it chooses to do so, can build its buildings higher than others can build in a particular area, closer to the street, or with less parking.
In an attempt to hear the university’s point of view on some of the points of disagreement and in the hope of mapping out possible solutions, the Daily Planet recently interviewed Chancellor Robert Berdahl.
Berdahl, 61, took office as chancellor in July 1997. Before coming to Berkeley, he served as president of the University of Texas at Austin for four years. And before that time, he was on the history faculty at the University of Oregon.
Following is the first of a two-part interview. The second part of the interview will appear Monday.
Q: After your time here as chancellor, which of your accomplishments do you hope people will remember?
A: The issues that I have been trying to address in many facets are really the foundations of excellence upon which this university’s quality have been based. And I think renewing those foundations of excellence is really what I hope to achieve in my tenure. That began with the investment in the library, which had suffered in the course of the inflation and the budget cuts. It began with the SAFER (Seismic Action Plan for Facility Enhancement and Research) program, identifying the buildings on the campus that were seismically unsafe.
The review of the entire campus that was undertaken in the summer of 1997, showed us that 27 percent of our buildings were rated poor or very poor and would present a threat to life in the event of a major earthquake. It has to do with the replacement of some of the facilities, and the effort in the replacing of those facilities to reconceptualize how work is done at this university, in a much more collaborative fashion, so that the health science initiative is part of that renewing of the foundation. (The Health Sciences Initiative redefines health science research by instituting collaboration between physical and biological scientists and engineers.)
I think that recruiting the very best faculty, bringing the very best students to this campus are part of that entire effort. I would put it in terms of making certain that the foundations upon which the excellence of this university have been built are stronger when I leave than when I came.
Q: The SAFER program and some of the physical changes at the university has a direct effect on the city. The city is very small and very dense, so any time the university moves, the city reacts, particularly when the university moves across where its physical boundaries have been.
A: None of these projects anticipate taking (city property.)
Q: The Surge Building (the Seismic Replacement Building planned for the Oxford Tract at Hearst Avenue and Oxford Street) will bring you up higher. The Surge Building, for example, will change the configuration at the Oxford Tract.
A: Well, it will replace one form of building with another. That’s true on many of the campus sites. We will be replacing the Stanley Hall building with another major building. We will be replacing Warren Hall with another building. The Surge Building is part of the long-range plan of the city and the university. It is nothing new for the city. Height is completely in accord with city regulations. So I don’t see that as particularly new or different.
Q: As you know, the city has expressed great discomfort with the Surge Building. Basically the City Council would like you to look at another site. It is one of a number of things that is causing tension.
A: I understand that. Obviously, we don’t seek unnecessary tension with the city and don’t want to have any unnecessary tension with the city. There are many voices that speak in this city. And I believe that there is a great deal of recognition that the university has to do.
We’re talking about life-safety issues. We’re talking about issues that put our students, our faculty, our staff at risk. And I would be extraordinarily irresponsible, as chancellor, if I didn’t do everything in my power to make certain that we build a safe campus.
And I frankly don’t understand any of the basis for an objection, that is consistent with a plan that the city itself developed.
Q: Given that there is a discomfort with that, and that there are other issues, such as institutions that the university has moved downtown. One is the University Extension move into the old Armstrong Business School. And then there is office space that the university occupies on Shattuck Avenue.
A: Everything that the university has done, if you want to look at Shattuck Avenue, in the mixed-use construction that is there, is an enhancement to Shattuck Avenue. It has provided much better retail facilities. It has provided housing, that the city is very eager for the university to build.
There are many parts of Shattuck Avenue, where there are visual blights, that I should think the city would be pleased to have the university do something constructive with, instead of having empty ramshackled buildings that are falling down.
And so I think that we’re trying to be a good neighbor. We’re trying to be constructive. We have in this particular case of the seismic building, a profound need. We will have 900,000 square feet of campus under construction or renovation next year. We have to have places to move faculty. We cannot undertake that SAFER project unless we have places in which to move faculty before undertaking those kinds of shifts.
So I think I have an obligation to work with the city, and I will. I think the city has an obligation to work with the university to make certain that we carry forward, providing a safe environment for our students and our faculty. That would be paramount for the city. We’re looking at facilities that are in the interest of the city.
I have ordered, for example, that the new dining facility, which we have to build, because we have to replace the unsafe dining facilities that we have, should be built to standards – and it costs a lot to build it to these standards – that dining facility would withstand any kind of an earthquake and be operational.
We know that a lot of buildings will be standing (after an earthquake), but we won’t be able to use them. That building has to be used because it may have to feed an awful lot of people in south Berkeley in the case of an earthquake. That’s in the interest of the city of Berkeley.
It’s a community resource. It has to be seen as a community resource. We want to be a responsible partner with the community, helping to provide venues where food can be distributed and emergency services provided, in case of an earthquake. So, we’re trying very hard to look at this as not simply, in terms of the campus, but in terms of the campus and the community, and I really think it’s imperative that we move with some dispatch.