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Council not settled with possible UC development

By John Geluardi Daily Planet staff
Wednesday January 16, 2002

The City Council met in closed session Tuesday to discuss filing litigation against UC Berkeley for deficiencies in the Final Environmental Impact Report on the university’s proposed development on “the quiet side of campus.” 

The executive session included Trent Orr, consulting attorney. It was held in advance of a Thursday Regents of the University of California meeting, where the FEIR for seven proposed projects along Hearst Avenue and Gayley Road on the north side of campus could be approved. 

Councilmembers say the projects would create more traffic, but not accommodate it by providing additional parking. 

The council won’t decide whether to file a lawsuit until after the regents meet. Orr is flying to Los Angeles to observe the meeting. 

If the regents certify the FEIR, it is then expected that they will approve an amendment increasing the amount of development permitted in the university’s 1990 Long Range Development Plan, from 333,300 square feet to 658,000 square feet in order to accommodate three of the seven projects. 

The city is considering litigation against the university for not proposing solutions in the FEIR to the projects’ possible impacts to neighborhoods. 

“I’m very concerned about these development plans,” said Mayor Shirley Dean. “They want to double the amount of square footage in their long range plan and I’m concerned about what the sheer size of this proposed development is going to do to traffic on the north side of campus, which has traditionally been the quiet side of campus.” 

But the university’s Principal Planner of Capital Projects Jennifer Lawrence said the projects, which will bring 550 new employees to the area while adding only 139 new parking spaces, will cause very little impact on traffic in the area.  

“I don’t think there’s ground for expecting traffic will be intensified in that area,” she said. “We don’t have any numbers that indicate employees will park on that side of campus.” 

The largest proposed project is the Stanley Hall Replacement Building on Gayley Road. According to the FEIR, the building, which will primarily house research laboratories for biological sciences, engineering, physics and chemistry, will be 285,000 square feet in bulk and seven stories high, not including the penthouse. The existing Stanley Hall is 65,000 square feet. 

Another project is the 145,00-square-foot Davis Hall North Replacement Building, which will include more research laboratories, offices, classrooms and a integrated microfabrication laboratory.  

In addition there will be a 33,000-square-foot expansion of Soda Hall at the corner of Hearst and Le Roy avenues. The remaining projects are renovations of existing buildings that will not expand square footage, but are expected to intensify usage, according to the FEIR. The projects are scheduled to be completed in 2005. 

“This project will have a massive impact on us,” said Councilmember Betty Olds. 

Councilmember Kriss Worthington said the project is likely to have a huge traffic impact on not only the neighborhood north of campus but also on downtown Berkeley. He added the FEIR does not appear to offer any solutions for problems that might be caused in nearby off-campus neighborhoods. 

“This is one of the largest development plans anyone can remember the university proposing,” he said. “These projects will significantly increase traffic and decrease the air quality north of campus.” 

Worthington said one possible solution might be university-issued free bus and BART passes to faculty and staff. 

Lawrence said that while free bus passes were not offered as a solution in the FEIR, the university has aggressively promoted alternate transportation for students, faculty and staff. 

“The campus is committed to innovative means of transportation,” she said. “The university leads the way on the Class Pass program, which the city is just now catching up with its Eco Pass program.” 

The Class Pass program was initiated in 1999 and allows students unlimited transportation on AC Transit for an annual registration fee of $18. 

Jim Sharp, a resident of the north-of-campus area and member of Daley’s Scenic Park Association of Neighbors, said he does not see how this project can possibly be considered without improved public transportation to the area.  

Sharp said it is already impossible to park in his neighborhood after 8 a.m. and that gridlock is already the norm during commute hours for roadways to Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratories. 

He also said the university does not appear to be concerned about neighborhood impact.  

“If the university was serious in working with the neighborhood they would acknowledge our quality of life is going to be taking an even bigger hit than it does already,” he said. “I think an enlightened university would make sure there would be some lessening of the impact these projects are bound to have.” 

Lawrence disagreed saying university staff has attended many community meetings. 

“We have gone to lots of commission meetings and our offer to go over the project with the Planning Commission was declined,” said Lawrence who added the university met with city traffic engineering staff earlier this month to discuss the projects’ traffic impacts. “The campus is working hard with the city on traffic issues.” 

The city has one month from the time the regents certify the FEIR to initiate litigation and Councilmember Olds said she is ready to fight. “We will not lie down and submit on this one,” she said.