At a meeting Thursday night to discuss the controversial permanent lighting plan for Memorial Stadium, the general consensus among the audience of about 80 Berkeley and neighboring residents seemed to be that panelists representing UC Berkeley just weren’t listening to them.
Halfway through the meeting, Frederika Drotos, past president of the Panoramic Hill Association, which opposes the lights, asked the panel if this meeting weren’t a waste of her time.
Drotos’ question came after panelist Jackie Bernier, a principal planner for auxiliary programs at Cal, said that the university would “review everything and then issue a categorical exemption for the lights” (which basically means that the university, with no other oversight body, will find that the permanent light towers pose no adverse environmental risks and approve them).
“There is no other body that will review the proposed lighting study,” Drotos shot back at the panel. “You’re saying, ‘We are the body, and we will issue our report.’ being paid to tell us there is nothing wrong,” she snapped.
Bernier tried unsuccessfully several times to interrupt Drotos and bring order back to the discussion. Drotos, with support from the audience, refused to yield the floor and simply talked louder and more forcefully than Bernier. At that point, Bernier admonished the audience to show the same respect “we expect our children to give.”
At that remark, the audience let loose a large collective groan. Janice Thomas, president of the Panoramic Hill Association, walked out, commenting under her breath that she didn’t have to take this kind of treatment.
Even City Councilmember Kriss Worthington, during his allotted three minutes, said, “Being treated as somebody’s children is so offensive to me. We have to think of the community and treat people with dignity and respect.”
Bernier tied several times to explain her comment, but the audience bunkered deeper into its perception that the university would do what it wants despite residents’ research and concerns.
“The bottom line,” said audience member Jim Sharpe, as if he were speaking for the university, “is that if you don’t like what we’re doing, then sue us.”
The neighbors believe the university ought to write a formal Environmental Impact Report.
Before the meeting began, Janice Thomas said that if an EIR were done and it suggested the lights could be installed without impacting the neighborhood, she would accept that decision.
What angers her and most of the nearby residents, she said, is the way due process is being circumvented. “If we have to live with the impact, at least acknowledge it. But we want the process.”
University says study is adequate
Panelist Jennifer Lawrence, a principal planner with the university, argued that UC Berkeley’s study is adequate and an EIR is unnecessary.
Monday is the last day the public can make formal comments on the study. Lawrence said that on Tuesday the university will file its “categorical exemption” exempting them from doing an EIR.
Neighbors then have 35 days to file suit to try to force the university to do an EIR, she said.
Panelist Bernier also contended that an EIR is unnecessary. The project was examined by a design review committee, which concluded that there would be no impact to the historic structure, and therefore no need for an EIR, she argued.
When asked on what the design committee based its conclusions, Bernier said it was the university’s computer-generated simulations.
A shout from the back rows asked if they were the inaccurate simulations or the revised ones. Bernier said it was both, referring to original, then revised simulations.
Panelist Marsha Gail, a principle at Environmental Vision, the West Berkeley company that generated the simulations, assured the audience that the discrepancies between the light standard measurements listed in the initial study and the revised measurements “in no way affect the original conclusions,” which include the notion that a permanent lighting system poses no significant environmental impact to the surrounding area or to the stadium itself.
Worthington, whose district does not include the stadium, said he’s concerned about people into whose homes the light rays will beam. “My biggest worry,” he said before the meeting, “is how many days of the year are the lights going to be on and after you spend this amount of money – $1 million – how many more times will you want them on?”
Several residents spoke to his concern. They said that at first the university promised only to use the lights two or three times a year. Thursday night, however, panelist Bob Driscoll, director of athletic administration for the university, stated that the permanent lights could be used as many as six times per year. It was noted that university Director of Community Relations Irene Hegarty, who was not in attendance, said in June 1999 that the university could not provide a contract to limit the use of the stadium lights. One woman suggested there might be a conspiracy between FOX-TV (which is footing the $1 million light bill) and Cal athletics to use the stadium more than six times a year, and for events other than football, including rock concerts. Lawrence said that a year ago the commitment was for a broader scope of games and that “the university does listen and we are sensitive to the community.” To that, one attendee suggested residents get a real contract with the city that states the times the lights will be in use.
A spokesperson for Mayor Shirley Dean read a statement that simply said, “Stop the project, cut your losses and move on.” A spokesperson for Oakland City Councilmember Jane Brunner, District One, read a letter requesting that the university perform a full EIR “before making the decision to install the lights.”
According to Thomas, the City Planning Commission and the Landmarks Preservation Commission both object to the proposed lighting plan and requested an EIR.
Armstrong is optimistic
City Councilmember Polly Armstrong, whose district includes the stadium, was optimistic. “I felt the panel was listening to me when I reiterated the possibility of a design competition,” she said after the meeting.
One design suggestion is for retractable lights that would fold over when not in use.
Driscoll said the hope is that this lighting system would shed more light on the perimeter making it safer for people. Immediately, several voices cried in unison, “That’s what we don’t want, the light spilling into the surrounding areas.”
After the meeting, Bernier said it was an “incredibly articulate audience” and she was glad that everyone addressed the issue.
“What seems as a gift,” Robert Breuer said, “comes at a great cost.” He compared installing the 135-foot light standards for use less than six times a year to installing a giant buzz saw in one’s living room, just in case the carpenter needed to cut wood once or twice a year.
Breuer said the neighborhood group has already raised $45,000 toward an eventual lawsuit against the university.
In the words of Councilmember Worthington, “There’s no such thing as a free light.”
Comments on the study can be addressed to Jennifer Lawrence, Principal Planner, Physical and Environmental Planning, 300 A & E building, Berkeley CA 94720-1382.