Page One

Letters to the Editor

Wednesday November 29, 2000

University is going too far 



The arrogance men do lives after them.  

E.P. Denton, UC Berkeley vice-chancellor for “capital projects,” told the regents last week that because students need more housing they are “looking to the Shattuck and University Avenue corridors.” (SF Chronicle, Nov. 17) So, editors, get ready to move. 

Yes, indeed, that is quite some “capital project.” It’s the whole family farm: lock, stock, and barrel.  

When my mother was a teenager, she told me that she and friends would get on a trolley and ride through open fields to an Italian village called Temescal, get off and have some bread and cheese. They’d then get on another trolley and ride through more open fields to Oakland. That was around 1904. 

Tomorrow, you won’t be able to get off the freeway into Berkeley unless you have a Cal reg-card. 


George Kauffman 



Harrison Field fiasco  


Last week, while breaking ground for the new city skateboard park in West Berkeley, construction crews struck contaminated groundwater, and the site was shut down.  

Who would have thought that the Hollywood movie “Erin Brockovich” would be played out in Berkeley! Yet, lab tests have revealed the presence of hexavalent chromium (chromium-6) in the groundwater samples and the suspected source, a large toxic plume upgradient from the recreational site.  

It now appears that the city, which intended to buy a kid’s soccer field, may also have purchased the long-term management of the area’s chromium-6 plume. 

It doesn’t take a hydrologist or toxicologist to understand this blunder, just a few facts and a little common sense. The ABCs of real estate say that before a property known to be contaminated is purchased, that either the buyer or the seller requests a Phase One technical site review which, you should know, also addresses off-site concerns.  

Such a study reduces the likelihood of being blindsided and stuck with the cleanup costs, such as those associated with the “newly” discovered toxic plume. In fact, no lending institution would commit to any industrial land purchase without a completed Phase I site study.  

As you might guess, the bank for Harrison Fields was the city itself. In the first week alone, remediation costs at the site have drained city coffers of nearly $200,000! 

Somehow, neither the UC Regents or the city of Berkeley asked for a Phase One report. Certainly, one of the city’s excuses will be that it simply attempted to wear too many hats, i.e., owner, environmental regulator, developer, contractor, and bank. With few checks and balances, the Harrison Project was allowed to become more than a single poor choice, but a series of mistakes spanning back to the re-zoning of the site two years ago. 

If the zoning process had been conducted responsibly in 1998, a complete Phase One would have been performed at Harrison, if only to legally affirm the assumptions put forth in the re-zoning of the site for recreational use. Instead, the city, playing the anxious buyer, rushed in without a Phase One study and then raced through all the city processes with little more in hand than the political directive to build this ball park in the industrial sector.  

Because of the extremely shallow groundwater levels and Codornices Creek bordering the soccer fields, it was necessary to install a dewatering system across the entire site, and especially at the skate park because of its structure. These drainage activities will draw the plume toward and into the Harrison site.  

Certainly, the sites water discharge points will need to be actively monitored. Moreover, the disruptions caused by the skate park’s construction will accelerate this process as the structure itself becomes a conduit to the interior of the property. The upward migration of chromium-6 has now become a real concern.  

Undoubtedly, a proper site groundwater investigation would have prevented any below-ground construction at Harrison Fields. Now the city will have to fill in all the construction pits of the skate park and look to an above-ground design, if it’s still convinced this is the best place for our children.  

It never seems to fail that when a community like Berkeley discovers a serious groundwater problem, the Regional Water Quality Board says, “We make polluters pay!” It’s time to tell the truth. Most often, where the pollution is owned by a small company and any attempt to require a cleanup usually results in bankruptcy.  

Therefore, the water board rarely makes any real demands for cleanup, as this long-standing chromium-6 groundwater plume clearly demonstrates. There has been no attempt to actively remediate this toxic plume. Instead, it has been allowed to spread off-site for years.  

It’s unlikely the city will recover anything from the UC Regents for failure to disclose off-site chromium-6 since the city government was so thoroughly notified, before, during and after the purchase, of the inadequate soil and groundwater review.  

This is government at its worst! An audit and investigation of the Harrison Fields Project and its re-zoning should be demanded.  


LA Wood 



University wife opposes Underhill  

Noonan addressed the UC Regents two weeks ago: 


My name is Mary Lee Noonan. I speak as a member of the Berkeley Architectural Heritage Association’s Board, as a faculty wife, as the mother of two Cal students and as longtime supporter and volunteer for the University.  

But today I have traveled from Berkeley to speak against the administration’s proposed Underhill Project, specifically against the only specific design in the complex that is before you, the Central Dining and Office Facility.  

Berkeley is uniquely blessed by an exhilarating climate and a spectacular physical setting - and by an extraordinary tradition of architects who have been inspired by these natural gifts. Part of the Berkeley experience for any student is this sense of place. This is not Irvine or Davis. It is Berkeley.  

The campus is enmeshed in a dense urban fabric, a city of houses, with a very special character, a fabric that the university tore apart in the middle of the last century. The festering sore of People’s Park and the gaping hole of the Underhill parking lot stand as daily witnesses to the havoc the University planners can unleash. It’s time for the University to get it right.  

Can you visualize the great buildings that, from its beginning, have defined the Underhill neighborhood: the Anna Head School complex from 1892, directly across the street, and Maybeck’s First Church of Christ, Scientist from 1910, a stone’s throw down Bowditch. One is on the National Register and the other is a National Landmark.  

Are you honestly willing to yoke these remarkable buildings with the severe glass walls and arcing roof lines of the Central Dining and Office facility, more reminiscent of an airport or a shopping mall? The university’s planners pay lip service to the idea of architectural context but often, as in this case, ignore it.  

The project description distributed at a recent open house is an insult to the intelligence of the community.  

Your planners are out of step with other institutions south of the campus, like the Town and Gown Club and the Baptist Seminary that are restoring their treasured buildings or entrepreneurs in recent smaller projects who are sensitive to harmony of scale, rooflines, materials and ornament within their streetscapes.  

Please send your planners back to the drawing boards to find the spirit of Berkeley, to rediscover a sense of place.  


Mary Noonan 






Whenever the matter of the Beth El Project is discussed by its proponents, we are subjected to long discourses on what a fine institution this is an how much it does for the community.  

Let us be perfectly clear: This is not the issue. Opponents of the project would concur that Beth El does all those things that we expect of religious institutions, but that does not negate the issues and facts of this project which is being opposed by environmentalists and neighbors alike as a project which it totally inappropriate to the site and harmful to the environment.  

Let us discuss the issues and not cloud them with extraneous appeals to the emotions.  


Carol Connolly