UC Berkeley is retracting its push for permanent lights at Memorial Stadium – literally.
Chancellor Robert Berdahl announced Thursday that the university will put off installing the permanent lights for one year and look into retractable alternatives.
Panoramic Hill neighbors have battled tooth and nail for two years to prevent the university from installing the nine, 60 to 75-foot light towers they say will cast ugly shadows over their neighborhood and malign the historic stadium.
Concerned neighbors brought the solution to the university, said Marie Felde, campus public information director. They suggested the design by General Electric Sports Lighting.
The housing for the lights would be raised for night games, then move back down a permanent pole after the game, Felde said.
Councilmember Polly Armstrong, who asked the university to look for alternatives in June, said she’s “really very pleased that the university is stepping up to the plate and listening to the neighbors.”
“The feedback I got from previous meetings was that (retractable lights) weren’t an option,” she said.
Felde said the only other design was a telescopic pole, one which retracts into itself, rather than having the lights’ housing retract. Felde said that was “way too expensive.”
Panoramic Hill neighbors said they had felt the university was strong-arming them when officials said in June that they were categorically exempt from making an Environmental Impact Report, required by the California Environmental Quality Act, to moor the lights to the rim of the 77 year-old stadium, and threatened a lawsuit.
But last week City Attorney Manuela Albuquerque wrote a letter to planners asking them to avoid litigation by voluntarily preparing a draft EIR.
Robert Breuer, who formed Neighbors of Memorial Stadium in response to the permanent lights, said that it is unfortunate that the organization has had to threaten a lawsuit for two years in a row.
“Maybe now it’s clear to them they cannot categorically exempt themselves from CEQA regulations,” he said. “Maybe they’ve realized that they have a historic structure here.”
Fox Television, which plans to broadcast four to six football games at the stadium, signed a 10-year contract with the PAC-10 conference to televise Saturday games this season. Fox also offered to pick up the $1 million tab for the permanent lights.
Felde said that the university had recently put out a request for contractors to propose costs for the retractable lights. At this point she said she was unsure how much the lights would cost, or if Fox would be willing to pay.
Though happy with the postponement, Breuer is still puzzled by the need for the lights.
“The history is that they’ve only used the lights once or twice a year, and we think it’s strange that they wouldn’t continue using temporary lights,” he said.
But university officials have said that temporary lights are difficult to manage and adjust. And, last year’s estimate was that each televised game was worth $200,000 to the school.
Breuer also fears that the lights will increase the number of night games at Memorial. He said that Stanford University has added two more night games to its schedule since they have added lights.
“That has never happened in Berkeley,” he said, “It would be a significant change.”
Councilmember Armstrong is sure a happy end can be brought to this two-year old fight.
“I’m hopeful that between the neighbors energy and the university’s willingness, that we’ll be able to find something that works for everyone,” Armstrong said. “I’m really optimistic.”