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Citizens Criticize University Growth Plan

Tuesday May 04, 2004

While critics of UC Berkeley’s recently released Long Range Development Plan fear the university’s vision for Berkeley amounts to a parking space for every car and a traffic jam for every street, a local legislator—Loni Hancock (D-Berkeley)—is pushing a state bill that would require the university to pay Berkeley for those and other headaches caused by its continued growth within the city. 

On Wednesday from 7-9 p.m. at the North Berkeley Senior Center, Berkeley residents will have the first of three opportunities to provide comment on the university’s Draft Environmental Impact Report (DEIR) for its Long Range Development Plan (LRDP) released last month. All comments issued at the public meetings or sent to UC before the June 14 deadline must be addressed by the university in its final EIR expected to be submitted for approval to the UC Board of Regents in the fall. 

The LRDP provides the framework of policies and guidelines that will direct future development on the campus and in surrounding Berkeley neighborhoods through 2020.  

It projects 2,600 new dormitory beds (a 32 percent increase), 2.2 million square feet of new office space (an 18 percent increase), and 2,300 new parking spaces (a 30 percent increase), all to accommodate a projected 12 percent rise in the total campus population from 45,940 in 2002 to 51,260 in 2020. 

How those new Berkeley students and employees get to campus and how the university plans to keep them from further jamming Berkeley streets has raised the most concern among residents who have studied the plan. 

The plan proposes mitigating the acknowledged traffic crunch primarily through a series of traffic lights on affected intersections near the campus. New signals would be installed at Durant Avenue and Piedmont Avenue, Derby Street and Warring Street, Addison Street and Oxford Street, Allston Way and Oxford, Kittredge Street and Oxford, Bancroft Way and Ellsworth Street and Bancroft and Piedmont where the university estimates that rush hour traffic volume would increase from five to 19 percent. 

“A lot of the traffic signals could be avoided if the university got more serious about encouraging its staff to use alternate modes of transportation,” said Rob Wrenn, a Berkeley Transportation Commissioner. Like other critics of the plan, Wrenn wants UC to build less parking and offer faculty and staff a transportation pass that provides subsidized AC Transit service, currently provided to students. 

“I think if people understood the mess that was going to be caused by more commuter parking spaces they would be outraged,” said Andy Katz, a UC Berkeley graduate student and chair of the Berkeley Zoning Adjustment Board. 

UC is working on a discount transit pass for employees, but Katz said the proposed fees for the pass would likely still make driving and parking at a university garage the more economical option. In the DEIR, the university also proposes to establish limits on the total number of parking permits sold and increase the number of parking spaces available only after 10 a.m. to avoid further clogging roads during the morning rush hour. 

Wrenn wanted UC to consider a program instituted by the University of Washington at Seattle that offers students and staff cheap transit passes, and which, according to that school’s annual report, has eliminated 74 million car trips to the campus since its inception in 1991 as well as avoided the construction of 3,600 parking spaces. 

Student government officials are also calling for the construction of more dormitories and a change in campus policies regarding housing construction. Currently if a dormitory is built over a parking garage, the university’s housing department must compensate its parking department to replace lost parking spaces. For the new dormitory at College Avenue and Durant Avenue that replaced a 100 space lot, the rule added $2.2 million to the cost of the project. 

“Why should the university tax students to pay for faculty parking spaces?” asked Jesse Arreguin, ASUC City Affairs Director. Despite vacancies at some student dormitories, Arreguin and other students are pushing for the plan to include more housing units to safeguard students against any future housing shortages. 

UC’s ambitious development goals won’t necessarily all be realized in the next 15 years. The university’s last plan in 1990 called for 3,400 new dormitory beds, of which the university built less than half, Arreguin said. 

Jim Sharp, who lives near the sector, doubted residents would be able to influence the new plan. “The university can generally do whatever it wants short of an illegal action,” he said. 

But a bill authored by State Assemblywoman Loni Hancock (D-Berkeley) could give Berkeley a little more leverage in dealing with the university, especially when it comes to exacting compensation for the costs that university’s growth means for city services. 

The bill, AB 2901, which passed the Committee on Natural Resources Monday and now heads to the Appropriations Committee, would require a public agency, like a state university, to pay for the mitigations of the impacts determined through an environmental review performed under the California Environmental Quality Act. 

In a letter of support of the bill, Berkeley Mayor Tom Bates wrote, “It is only fair to expect a public agency to devote a portion of their resources to mitigating the impacts of their projects, and not to place this burden on local residents. AB 2902 creates a mechanism to address the impacts a project would have on activities for which the lead agency is not directly responsible.”  

AB2901 is opposed by the University of California.