Debate over the city’s proposal to build a new fire station in the Berkeley Hills erupted once again at Thursday’s meeting of the Zoning Adjustments Board.
This time, the occasion was the certification of the final Environmental Impact Report for the proposed station, which would be located at 3000 Shasta Rd. on property currently owned by the East Bay Municipal Utilities District.
Certification of the EIR – a document required by state law for all projects that are expected to have a significant impact on the environment – would mean that the board found the report to be complete and accurate.
After almost three hours of public comment and debate, though, the board withheld its seal of approval.
They asked Fire Chief Reginald Garcia and John Courtney, whose firm, Lamphier-Gregory, prepared the document, to come back to their next meeting with some minor changes.
Board member Dave Blake asked Courtney to clear up some apparent confusion over geological studies performed at the site of the new station.
An early study by two geologists seemed to insinuate that there could be potential stability problems at the site in case of an earthquake.
Garcia and Courtney said that an in-house geologist had refuted the problem, but the board asked them to spell out their geologist’s reasoning.
During the public comment period, fire station fans and detractors fired furious salvos at one another.
Despite Board Chair Carolyn Weinberger’s oft-repeated injunction that speakers should restrict their comments to the EIR, and not the project itself, both sides used the occasion to stump for or against the station.
“This station will give us the resources, space and ability to respond to fire emergencies in the area,” Garcia said.
A number of neighborhood representatives echoed the sentiment, some of them, at least, making an attempt to tie it to the matter at hand.
“I’ve read every page of this report,” one resident told the board, “and it’s a very good one.”
Opponents argued that the new station would not satisfy the requirements of Measure G, funding from which will be used to build it.
Measure G, passed by Berkeley voters soon after the devastating 1991 hills firestorm, called for a new station to battle wildfires that threatened to spread into residential areas.
The measure specified that the new station would be “multi-agency” – it would be staffed by more than one jurisdiction, and it would serve as a command center in the event of such a fire.
Peter Cukor, a hills resident opposed to the new station, argued that the EIR was inadequate because it didn’t consider a large, multi-agency facility as an option.
The mattter will be heard again at the Feb. 14 board meeting, after which the board will consider the details of the project itself.