To the Editor:
The city's ability to challenge UC expansion is not as weak as some would have us believe.
The recent decision not to sue over north-side development is an excellent example. The city attorney claims that Berkeley can do nothing to stop the development because the university enjoys sovereign immunity, which permits it to develop without city permission.
But sovereign immunity does not prevent the city from suing over environmental impacts. If Berkeley had filed suit over environmental impacts, even with a weak case, we could have done better.
An important thing to keep in mind about sovereign immunity is that it cuts both ways. Yes, the university can develop without our permission, but it also must bear responsibility for that development. Berkeley has no obligation to provide free or subsidized services, and could control the expansion by simply insisting that the university pay its fair share. I do not suggest Berkeley cut off emergency services, but non-emergency services are a different story.
For example, Berkeley spends approximately $44 million for sewers every five years. With a population of 100,000 people, approximately 30,000 of whom are students, the university should pay approximately one-third – over $14 million dollars! But under sweetheart deals approved by the city attorney, the university will pay less than $1.5 million during that five-year period! This means Berkeley homeowners subsidize the university to the tune over $4 million annually – and that's just for sewer service.
To make matters worst, deferred sewer maintenance is a disaster waiting to happen. If sewers are not properly maintained, damaged pipes could flood neighborhoods, harm the environment and spread disease.
While the City Council has foolishly agreed not to sue the university on environmental grounds, Berkeley still retains the right to raise other issues, such as having the university pay full cost for city services, and limiting expansion to what was promised in the university's 1990 Long Range Development plan. But the agreement was written up to say the city would not sue on any aspect of the north-side expansion. The City Council should therefore insist the agreement be rewritten. If the university refuses to agree to rewrite the agreement, the city could selectively stop providing non-emergency services until it pays up.
Those in government – such as Linda Maio, who made the substitute motion that we not sue the university; and City Attorney Manuela Albuquerque, whose sweetheart deals are costing taxpayers a fortune – have a lot to answer for, especially to homeowners, whose hefty sewer bills are helping finance university expansion.
Insisting the university pay its fair share would discourage further expansion, and enable Berkeley to free millions of tax dollars for parks, libraries, health care and other services, and that would benefit all Berkeley's residents, including the students.
- Elliot Cohen