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LBNL Plans to Fill Valley for Parking

Tuesday July 08, 2003

Residents are opposing a proposal by the Lawrence Berkeley National Lab to construct a six-story office building on a sloping one-acre plot of land and pave over a nearby valley to build a parking lot. Many of those neighbors came out on Monday to take a tour guided by LBNL officials as part of the scoping process, a preliminary step required before a draft environmental impact report can be done on a project. 

During the scoping phase, residents can learn more about a proposed project and offer suggestions as to what factors should be examined in the subsequent environmental analysis, which is required by state law. The project involves the construction of an office building on 65,000 square feet of land and filling in part of a valley that includes the Cafeteria Creek to make room for a 120-space parking lot.  

The tour was attended by about 45 people, including residents, city employees, city commissioners, and LBNL employees. But the most outspoken attendees were environmentalists and neighbors of the proposed site who worry that the project will exacerbate traffic congestion and remove valuable open space. 

Because the site of the proposed office building is located on such a steep hill-- the slope is about 90 feet-- workers will have to dig out up to 26,000 cubic yards-- or more than 2000 truckloads-- of soil to level out the land. The preferred plan is to dump that soil into the nearby creek and build a parking lot on top of it. About 300 linear feet of open creek will be buried. 

LBNL is considering alternatives to burying the creek, including an option to ship the soil out to a landfill, either up Grizzly Peak Road or down University Avenue. But Jeff Philliber, LBNL Environmental Planning Group Coordinator, said the parking lot option was the preferred one because it will save money and provide parking in an area that is in dire need of it. 

Under the parking lot option, 39,000 square feet of land will be covered with asphalt. Philliber, who guided Monday’s tour, admitted that the water quality could be affected by the increased petroleum and other contaminants leaking into the water supply. But he said steps could be taken to mitigate that, such as using devices to separate oil and water. Another resident brought up the question of increased storm water runoff due to the loss of permeable surface. “We will have to look into ways to slow the water down,” Philliber said. 

Pamela Shivola, a North Berkeley resident and a creek restoration advocate, said the plan is misguided. “This is beautiful,” she said, looking out into the valley, lush with brush and willow, oak and eucalyptus trees. “They just want to kill everything that’s alive. The word unconscionable comes to mind.”  

Daniella Thompson is a neighbor who lives on LeConte street and a member of the Native Plant society. She said the proposed development is “totally intolerable. To fill this creek up with soil is a total outrage against nature. I can’t believe they’re even proposing it.” 

Dean Metzger, president of the Claremont Elmwood Neighborhood Association and a transportation commissioner, said LBNL should come up with a plan that encourages transit use. “I think what the people of Berkeley are concerned with is changing the culture of driving so that we get people out of their cars and using public transit,” he said. “We are never going to change unless institutions like yours takes a step in that direction.”  

Philliber said transit-friendly alternatives were “certainly being considered in our long-range plan” and said the lab has been more aggressive than most institutions in encouraging the use of public transportation, pointing to the LBNL shuttle buses as an example. 

The city council on Tuesday will consider a proposal by Councilmember Dona Spring to officially oppose LBNL’s plan to pave over the creek. It would call on the city manager to send letters to LBNL, the Regional Water Quality Control board and other state agencies to oppose the plan on the grounds that it would “destroy the ecological integrity of the North Branch area of the Strawberry Creek.” It would instruct him to write a letter to LBNL outlining the city’s policy of prohibiting the removal of live oak trees.