City Council took steps Tuesday night to keep closer tabs on Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, which has clashed with city officials and neighborhood activists in recent months over a pair of large, proposed construction projects that activists say will damage the environment.
The council voted 6-2, with one abstention, to direct city staff to conduct preliminary analyses of all major planned development projects at the federal lab, which is operated by the University of California. Council also asked City Manager Weldon Rucker to appoint a member of his staff to serve as a liaison responsible for coordinating city and lab relations.
Mayor Tom Bates, who put the item on the agenda, said before the meeting that it was prompted in part by a sense that the city was caught unaware this year by lab plans to build a six-story, 94,000 square foot molecular foundry in Strawberry Canyon. The $85 million foundry would be dedicated to the study of nanoscience, the manipulation of materials at the molecular level.
City Councilmember Dona Spring also raised concerns Tuesday night about a recently announced lab proposal to build a separate, six-story office building and fill in part of a valley that includes Cafeteria Creek to make space for a 120-space parking lot.
Terry Powell, community relations officer for the lab, said she was pleased with the council’s move to put a liaison in place.
“I actually think it’s going to be helpful,” she said. “It will help us focus and provide information through one single point of contact.”
Powell said the lab informed city planning staff last fall of its plans for the foundry, but the message did not seem to make its way to City Councilmembers. Having a designated liaison will help, she said.
But City Councilmember Margaret Breland raised concerns Tuesday night about an-as-yet unnamed, overloaded staffer taking on the large job of monitoring lab activities. Bates and City Manager Weldon Rucker countered that the liaison would simply be a point of contact and would work with many others to do the work of analyzing planned lab projects.
The council also squabbled over the scope of the measure. Councilmember Gordon Wozniak, a former senior scientist at the lab, argued that it should not cover projects planned for the portion of lab-owned land in neighboring Oakland.
“I...think this is a bad precedent,” said Wozniak, arguing that the city should not be spending inordinate amounts of time studying projects in other jurisdictions.
Bates joked that Berkeley studies projects all over the world, making reference to the council’s predilection for passing resolutions on international issues practice that has repeatedly won national press attention, not all of it flattering.
Councilmember Kriss Worthington said it would be “foolhardy” to study only some of the projects at the lab.
“Pollution knows no lines,” he said. “Radiation does not stop because there’s a ‘Nuclear Free Berkeley’ sign on the line.”
In the end, Wozniak and Councilmember Betty Olds voted against the measure with Vice Mayor Maudelle Shirek abstaining.