Despite the protests of preservationists and campus community neighbors, a preliminary investigation into the environmental consequences of UC Berkeley’s proposed expansion of the Goldman School of Public Policy has identified no significant long term impacts associated with the project.
The Draft Environmental Impact Report, released last week by the school’s Physical and Environmental Planning Office, noted that while parking availability would decrease and traffic increase, there would be a “less than significant” adverse impact to the site’s historical and aesthetic resources. The report is now subject to a 45-day public review and comment period before final approval by the chancellor. The anticipated end for public debate is August 18.
“The campus has every obligation to comply to the California Environmental Quality Act which maintains that the public has a right to comment on any determinations. The proposal won’t be approved until this process is completed,” said Jennifer Lawrence, principal planner of the Physical and Environmental Planning Office. “Our office will ultimately publish a final EIR in which we address all the comments we receive. At this point, as far as I know, we haven’t gotten any.”
Proposed is a three-story, 11,000 square-foot building – complete with two lecture halls, 10 faculty offices, several small seminar rooms and space for one or more research centers – to be constructed adjacent to the existing Goldman School. The site is presently a 22-space parking lot on the corner of Le Roy and Hearst Avenues.
“I’m very receptive to the expansion. I think that as an addition it is well thought out. When the university finally does something that is tasteful and respectful as this we ought to give them credit,” said Councilmember Betty Olds, whose jurisdiction includes the proposed development. “They did their homework on this one. However, I would very much be against any further additions up there.”
Many residents of the adjoining community are hardly so adamant in their approval.
“This is the last spot north of Hearst (Avenue) that is still open space. It’s a very fragile neighborhood on the interface zone and once again the school is being a difficult neighbor,” said Jim Sharp, a Berkeley resident who lives two-blocks from the proposed development. “If you go back 60 years, Hearst had fraternities, rooming houses and old buildings, now one by one they’ve all been eliminated and replaced. The city of Berkeley isn’t getting any bigger but the university is. It’s displacing the historical amenities of the town.”
Sharp and 25 other community members voiced their concern at meetings when the plans for the expansion were unveiled in February.
“The feeling is that when the Soda Building was built several years ago, that was too much. Neighbors already fell half-gobbled up, to add more adds insult to injury,” said Councilmember Dona Spring. “It’s been on hiatus for a few years but the philosophy of ‘if you get the money, we’ll build it’ is back. There is little thought about how that building will (affect) Berkeley. Continued expansion leads to (traffic) congestion and a deterioration of the quality of life.”
School officials insist that all comments on the Draft EIR will be weighed for merit and that everything possible will be done to maintain the integrity of the site.
“The Berkeley environment is tightly impacted. We’re basically sitting on top of each other,” said Lawrence. “We’re trying to be as sensitive as possible to neighbors and the environment.”
Preservationists claim that the historical and architectural value of the existing building, erected in 1893 by renowned Bay Area architect Ernest Coxhead, will be compromised by the expansion. The building, formerly the Beta Theta Pi fraternity house, was acquired by the University in 1966 and designated Berkeley City Landmark #66 in 1982. According to Susan Cerny, author of Berkeley Landmarks, the building is among the Bay Area’s earliest and most important and influential buildings in the “First Bay Tradition.” An historic resources inventory conducted by the California Department of Parks and Recreation in 1979 says, “This whimsical building, like Coxhead other radical designs within the Bay Area idiom displays the same love of craftsmanship. The Beta Theta Pi house is an excellent example of the English Tudor revival style, both confident and eccentric in spirit.”
The landmark is notable as one of few structures to survive the devastating North Berkeley Fire of 1923. The Berkeley Architectural Heritage Association recognized the Goldman School with an award for the school’s renovation of the facility in 1998.
“It’s a miracle that this building exists after 107 years. Placing another structure on the site, no matter how pretty the structure is, will compromise the original building, the site and the views of the building,” said Cerny. “But times have changed and foremost is that the building is preserved. It represents a different era when land was available and the population was low. The addition reflects the increased density and the popularity of the university.”