Page One

Vista College Finally Gets Green Light

By Matthew Artz
Friday February 27, 2004

The Peralta Community College District and the City of Berkeley have reached a settlement on parking mitigations owed to the city by Peralta, giving the district the green light to start construction on its new downtown Vista College campus. 

Peralta, which counts Vista among its four member schools, will pay the city $3.6 million to offset the expected parking crunch of putting the six-story, 165,000-square-foot building at the 2050 Center St. location where a 54-space parking lot once sat. 

Construction had originally been scheduled to start two weeks ago, but was blocked after the city denied construction permits to close off parts of Center Street. 

Two years after former City Manager Weldon Rucker proposed the $3.6 million as the mitigation fee in a letter to Peralta, current City Manager Phil Kamlarz and Mayor Tom Bates tried to reopen negotiations with the college district two months ago with a figure of $6 million. 

Though Bates insisted the Rucker letter was not legally binding, he added that he didn’t want to hold up construction any further on the project. The estimated completion date has already been pushed back from August, 2005 to January, 2006. 

“Weldon wrote an unfortunate letter,” Bates said. “We’ve been upset about that and have wanted to negotiate, but the project is an important asset to the community and we want this to go forward.” 

Vista did meet one city demand, agreeing to safeguard the money in an escrow account. Berkeley officials were concerned that the mitigation money, which is earmarked from 2002’s Measure E, could dry up if construction costs exceeded estimates. 

With the parking permits in hand, Vista President John Garmon expected construction to begin immediately. He added that a published report of Vista losing $2,500 a day in contractor fees during the stalemate was false, since the penalty would only have applied had construction already began and was then halted. 

Bates said the mitigation money would be spent on improving downtown transportation. A portion will go towards the estimated $18 million reconstruction and expansion of the 420-space Center Street garage and the rest to fund transportation alternatives to driving.l