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Neighbors get specific in criticism of UC plan

By Judith Scherr Daily Planet Staff
Wednesday February 28, 2001



UC Berkeley’s proposed seismic retrofit and expansion on its northeast quadrant has run afoul of neighbors who criticize the project for potential increases in traffic and air pollution, creek pollution and the loss of recreational space.  

The university, however, says it has no choice but to make its buildings earthquake safe. While doing so, its expansion has a humanitarian mission: “To conduct research in order to learn about the human body’s molecular machinery and genetic blueprint,” according to the university’s description of the project in the Initial Study, an overview of the projects’ possible impacts. The projects “are proposed to facilitate new research and teaching efforts in the public interest,” an introduction to the study says. 

The study is preliminary to a full-blown Environmental Impact Report, which will detail the impacts of the project on the community and propose mitigation measures.  

Jim Sharp lives in the north-of-campus area. He says the neighborhood will suffer from the project and takes a cynical view of its stated purpose. The research “allows the university to sell patents of its research,” he said. 

According to the proposal detailed in the Initial Study Davis Hall, just south of Hearst Avenue is now about 38,000 square feet and would be replaced by a building that is about 145,000 square feet. There are now some 25 faculty and staff who work in the laboratories and offices there, but there will be about 460 people working there when the new project is completed. 

Stanley Hall is also located on the northeast portion of the campus. The university says it will grow four times its current size to about 285,000 square feet. There will be 600 to 700 faculty, researchers and lab assistants working at the facility, compared to the current 288 people working there. 

Soda Hall, north of the campus proper, will also expand. The historic Naval Architecture Building may be moved temporarily while work is being done under it, then moved back, though Sharp said critics from the Berkeley Architectural Heritage Association say they don’t think it is possible to move the building without destroying it. 

The lower Hearst Parking Structure at Scenic and Hearst avenues, which has tennis courts and a skateboard park on it’s top tier, may have the recreational uses replaced by 150 to 180 parking spaces. 

“There will be more traffic and less parking,” Sharp said. Neighbors also oppose the proposed loss of the recreational space.  

“They’re planning on 900 (staff). They’re not going to be flying in,” Sharp said, noting that traffic in the area is already very bad. University spokesperson Marie Felde said she believes many of the 900 staff that will work in the new buildings will simply shift their work sites temporarily when they join others on the projects at these new buildings, but she was unable to confirm the numbers of new staff who would come to the campus. 

When asked if the EIR would study where to house new staff, UC Berkeley Principal Planner Jennifer Lawrence said that it would not. It would simply look at traffic impacts. “I believe we’ll hire Berkeley residents,” she said. However, she conceded that the university does not follow a hire-Berkeley-first policy, due to state law which prohibits them from doing so. 

Sharp said the university ought to have written one collective environmental report for both the expansion of the Goldman School of Public Policy, a nearby project that is under way, and the northeast quadrant projects. It is as if “the two operate in different universes,” he said. 

But Lawrence explained that the university has to wait until it has the funds to build each project before it considers the impacts of each. 

Asked why the university wanted to put laboratories so near earthquake faults – one runs through nearby Memorial Stadium – Felde explained that there are already laboratories in these buildings and that it makes sense to expand the current use. There will be a particularly high degree of earthquake safety in these buildings, Felde said. 

The university held a meeting Monday night to get comments on the scope of the Environmental Impact Report. Sharp said some 70 people attended. The next step is for a consultant to write a Draft Environmental Impact Report, which the university says will be completed by April 1. 

Sharp says that is too quick. “I want a very elaborate transportation element,” he said. 

He and his north side neighbors plan to see what they can do to oppose the project. “There is not any discussion of livability of the adjacent area,” he said. 

But Councilmember Betty Olds said the fight is no use. “A lot of (the proposal) I don’t like,” she said. But the city loses every time it goes head to head with the university. 

“I bow to the inevitable,” she said. 

For copies of the Initial Plan or to comment on the plan by March 10, contact Jennifer Lawrence, principal planner, UC Berkeley, Physical and Environmental Planning Office, 1 A & E Building, #1382, Berkeley CA 94720-1382.0