With Berkeley’s biggest neighbor planning to add over two million square feet of girth in the coming 15 years, residents gathered Wednesday to tell UC Berkeley to slow down before it gobbles the town whole.
“This plan is a death knell to the historic ambiance of the Berkeley community,” said Clifford Fred, one of more than a dozen residents to speak at the first of two scoping sessions on the university’s Draft Environmental Impact Report to its Long Range Development Plan (LRDP).
And when a university spokesperson pledged that the university “will pay our fair share” when it comes to mitigating impacts caused by the plan, a woman in the audience called out, “No you won’t,” accompanied by a chorus of jeers from fellow residents.
The proposed development plan, released last month, guides future university development both on the central campus and on city streets through 2020. It projects 2,600 new dormitory beds, 2,300 new parking spaces, 2.2 million square feet of new administrative space, and nearly 5,000 more people traveling to campus daily.
While the goals are ambitious—the plan calls for roughly three times more development than its predecessor adopted in 1990—UC Berkeley Project Manager Kerry O’Banion said both that the new space is needed and that the university is committed taking the city’s concerns seriously.
UC Berkeley often catches flak among city residents because, as a state entity, it pays no property taxes, offers the city little compensation for municipal services such as sewers and public safety, and is exempt from city zoning rules for its directly education-related activities.
O’Banion assured residents that more than three-quarters of the proposed new space in the LRDP would be built on the main campus and adjoining city streets. He said the campus is already short some 450,000 square feet of research space after several consecutive years of state mandated enrollment growth.
O’Banion also assured residents at the scoping session that for developments planned on city streets, the university would seek harmony with city planning mandates. Unlike UC’s last EIR adopted in 1990, O’Banion said, the new plan begins each chapter with an analysis of Berkeley’s General Plan, which guides Berkeley city development. In addition, the university’s LRDP commits development south of the main campus to conform to the city’s Draft Southside Plan.
“We do take local plans seriously,” O’Banion explained.
Residents in attendance were nearly unanimously critical of the university and were especially concerned about what anticipated UC growth would mean for Berkeley’s already congested streets.
“Twenty-three hundred new spaces could put people back in their cars,” warned Nora Foster, who works at a UC Library.
Steve Geller urged the university to use its resources to find a better way to mitigate traffic problems than merely putting a series of new traffic lights at affected intersections.
“Seems like you folks should be able to figure it out,” Geller said. “They did it at the University of Washington and Stanford.” Those schools offer a subsidized transit pass, which UC Berkeley is considering establishing. Parking for UC staff ranges from $78 to $108 per month, while an AC transit 31-day pass costs $60.
But O’Banion countered that new parking is needed, especially after the university failed to approach its parking goals in the 1990 plan. Though that plan called for 1,000 new spaces, the university has actually lost 300 spaces since 1990, he said. About 50 percent of UC Berkeley staff and 10 percent of students drive to campus, according to O’Banion.
Another area where the university has fallen short of its 1990 goals is housing. UC is already building about 1,000 new beds of housing south of campus and the plan pledges to guarantee housing for sophomores, new faculty, transfer students and first-year graduate students.
But one plan to build 100 units of faculty housing on Summit Road faced organized opposition Wednesday. “The proposal will do great harm to our neighborhood,” said David Nasatir, who echoed other neighbors’ concerns that the project would create noise and traffic problems.
Former City Council candidate Anne Wagley chastised the university for leaving Berkeley taxpayers to pay for city services that go to the university.
“Every new sink and toilet UC builds burdens the city’s sewer system and property tax payers in Berkeley subsidize this,” said Wagley, who is an employee of the Berkeley Daily Planet.
Residents will get a second opportunity to comment on the plan May 11 at the Krutch Theater on the Clark Kerr Campus. The university must respond to all comments in the final EIR, which is scheduled to go for final approval before the Board of Regents in the fall.
Berkeley Assistant City Manager Arrietta Chakos announced that the city would hold its own public hearing on the university’s development at the May 19 meeting of the Planning Commission. She said the city currently had a 10-person team reviewing the plan and that the City Council will consider it at a May 25 work session and at its June 8 meeting.