Strawberry Canyon is in the city’s backyard, and for many of us, it’s as if it isn’t even there. How else to explain that in the span of less than a year, a six-story nanotechnology research facility was approved without the benefit of a public hearing, the Alquist-Priolo Earthquake Fault Zone was selected as the preferred location for six-story Building 49, and a water distribution upgrade project was deemed exempt from the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) despite significantly denuding the landscape?
The natural environment of Strawberry Canyon is rapidly disappearing. In the 1990s alone, LBNL built the Human Genome Center (now part of the Joint Genome Institute with Livermore and Los Alamos Labs) and the Hazardous Waste Storage Handling Facility (HWSHF). UC Berkeley built the impermeable surface of the pictured parking lot. What appears to be clear-cutting is presumably an effort at vegetation management to reduce the risk of fire next to the facility that stores and sometimes treats hazardous and radioactive waste. In the lower right corner is the UCB Botanical Garden hanging on by a thread.
The LBNL qualifies as a Superfund site with a Hazard Ranking Score (HRS) of 50.35 while meanwhile the Livermore Lab Site 300 Explosive Testing and Waste Dump Site has a lower HRS of 31.58. Rather than cleaning up the core Berkeley Lab site, new construction is pushed out to the perimeter. Infill development is apparently irrelevant to an expansionistic Department of Energy facility operating with the UC Regents’ blessing.
The lab seeks at this time to prepare a 20-year development plan, known as the Long Range Development Plan (LRDP) and per CEQA law solicits public input. The initial study for the LRDP reports that the 200-acre LBNL site in the Hill area presently includes 1.76 million gross square feet (gsf) of building space and that 25 percent of the site is impermeable surface area. Implementation of the LRDP would increase the lab’s main Hill site total building area to approximately 2.5 million gsf. Estimated impermeable surface area is to be determined. The initial study is available online at www.lbl.gov/Community/env-rev-docs.html.lbl.gov.
Unless there is a widespread and diverse community-based movement, Strawberry Canyon will be lost to us. If you believe that nature is irreplaceable and that wildlands should be in walking distance rather than driving distance, then you might want to become involved. Discover Strawberry Canyon while it’s still beautiful open space and habitat for wildlife. Our very own backyard is a treasure.
The 30-day comment period on the Notice of Preparation of an Environmental Impact Report on the LRDP ends Nov. 26, 2003. Comments can be e-mailed to LRDP-EIR@lbl.gov or mailed to Jeff Philliber, Environmental Planning Group Coordinator, Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, One Cyclotron Road, MS 90K, Berkeley, CA 94720.
Janice Thomas is President of the Panoramic Hill Association, former Chair of the City of Berkeley’s Community Environmental Advisory Commission, and former Co-Chair of the Committee to Minimize Toxic Waste.