The neighbors hate it, the City Council opposed it, an assemblymember is fighting against it – still, the Regents of the University of California voted unanimously Thursday to approve an Environmental Impact Report that permits the university to construct a new three-story building on a five-acre parcel at Oxford Street and Hearst Avenue.
The more-than 80,000 square-foot building would include a 200-space underground parking garage. Its purpose is to temporarily replace campus structures undergoing earthquake retrofit. When the earthquake work is complete, the building will serve as office space.
“It’s really a master-slave relationship,” said a frustrated Councilmember Dona Spring, in whose district the Oxford Tract sits. Spring was one of eight councilmembers who voted in the spring to oppose the project.
Objections of the council and neighbors go beyond the bulky structure, proposed for the tract where there now are low-lying buildings and green houses.
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Spring and her colleagues decry what they see as a major traffic jam that would result from the hundreds of drivers, hoping for a space in the 200-car lot. They further object to the proposed nighttime special-event use of the parking and point to the danger they say will be presented by the crowds of people crossing Oxford Street on their way between the Oxford Tract site and the campus.
The university decision was made Thursday only after listening carefully to speakers from the city, university spokesperson Chuck McFadden said. “They agonized over the decision.”
Misgivings were expressed only by Regent John Davies of San Diego, McFadden said. While voting with the others, Davies told his fellow regents that he understood the feelings of those who had spoken. “He felt empathy for them,” McFadden said.
The regents carefully considered the alternatives and concluded that putting the building on this piece of university property was the best plan, he said. “It wasn’t a question of cavalierly disregarding the representatives of the city.”
Spring said as the university encroaches on the city, it ought to pay its fair share. “They do not pay taxes for infrastructure – for fire, police, sewers,” she said. “The burden falls on the city of Berkeley taxpayers.”
Assemblymember Dion Aroner tried to intervene in the spring, by getting a bill passed to delay the funding the university would use to construct the new facility. “The governor blue-penciled that,” said Aroner aide Hans Hemann. Aroner still hopes to bring the city and university together on the project, he said.
Spring said she continues to hope the university will modify its plans. The vote “may mean that we have to start looking at legal options,” she said.