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LBNL Agrees to Spare Creek

By PAUL KILDUFF Special to the Planet
Friday August 08, 2003

Bowing in part to community pressure, the Lawrence Berkeley National Lab (LBNL) announced this week that it won’t bury part of a creek on its property under a parking lot. 

The dirt in question comes from the excavation to level a site for their new office building in Strawberry Canyon. Originally LBNL planned to dump the soil into a nearby creek to create a parking lot. Now lab officials say the 26,000 cubic yards of dirt—about 2000 truckloads—will be taken offsite. 

“Basically the reason we changed the plan was in large part because of the community input that we received,” said LBNL spokesman Ron Kolb. He said that opponents at a recent public scoping meeting to discuss the plan voiced “concerns about the siting of the parking lot and what they described as a pristine canyon.” 

LBNL Facilities Director George Reyes said the Lab “is proud to be a part of Berkeley and is very appreciative of the open dialogue with city leaders, as well as of input from all members of our community.” 

Neighborhood activists who spoke out against the plan said they were elated, but not exactly surprised. 

“People all over Berkeley were very much against this,” said Daniella Thompson, who lives just down the hill from the lab on LeConte Street in Blackberry Canyon. She wrote protest letters to LBNL, the San Francisco Water Quality Control Board and other organizations that would have had to sign off on the parking lot plan. 

“I think there was a public outcry,” said Thompson, a member of the Native Plant society. “I can’t think of a single person who agreed to this with applause. It was universally decried as a very bad idea. And fortunately they listened, which often they don’t do. But in this case they did the right thing,”  

While Kolb admits that NBNL’s decision was greatly influenced by community opposition, there were other factors. “If we did not have a viable alternative, a non-intrusive alternative, we probably wouldn’t have changed our minds,” said Kolb. 

Kolb added that another reason NBNL shelved the plan was that the parking lot wasn’t urgently needed. 

“Since we don’t need it, we looked to other ways that we might be able to accommodate this huge amount of dirt without intruding on the environment,” said Kolb.  

Another factor in the decision was objections to the plan from LBNL workers who said they enjoyed looking at the creek from their lunchroom. About 300 feet of the Cafeteria Creek would have been buried under the parking lot plan. 

“There was at least one employee and probably several others who were concerned about it not only from its aesthetic point of view, but also just in terms of their concern that the woodland hillside setting would be disrupted,” said Kolb. “And so that input weighed on management’s mind.” 

There is no plan for the dirt as of yet, but Kolb said it could be headed for other construction projects in and around Berkeley or to a landfill. 

The new office plan will relocate 240 employees in a nearby building. The number of parking spaces needed is expected to remain the same. The proposed lot would have been 39,000 square feet with 120 spaces.  

While Thompson was happy that the parking lot will not be built, she’d like to see NBNL also scuttle their plans for the six-story, 65,000 square foot office known as Building 49. 

“They’re still going ahead with the building,” she said. “It would be nice if they didn’t. If would be nice if they didn’t dig into that hillside and excavate all of that soil. It would be nice if they cleaned up some of their polluted sites and put the building there. But, under the circumstances I’m just delighted that the creek is going to be left alone.” 

LBNL’s new plans are outlined in a notice of preparation (NOP) that includes a description of the project as well as details on the Environmental Impact Report (EIR) that will have to be filed before construction can begin. A copy of the NOP can be downloaded from the laboratory web site at  

A draft of the EIR will be available for comment by mid-September with public meetings on it to follow in October. LBNL expects to submit the final EIR to UC Regents for approval this winter. Construction could begin as early as next spring and completed by fall 2005.