UC Berkeley is growing and so is the litany of complaints from neighbors demanding the university cease and desist its expansion.
“They’ve been a horrible neighbor,” Berkeley resident Bennett Markel told a Tuesday night scoping session on the university’s Long Range Development Plan (LRDP). “I can’t imagine any official of the university standing up here and being proud of anything.”
Markel was among some 25 citizens who showed up at the legally-required meeting on the university’s Clark Kerr Campus on Warring Street to blast the LRDP, the document that will direct new university construction on the campus and in city streets through 2020.
The Draft Environmental Impact Report (DEIR) for the plan, released last month, projected 2,600 new dormitory beds, 2,300 new parking spaces, 5320 new daily visitors to the campus and 2.2 million square feet of new administrative space—three times more than called for in the campus’ 1990 LRDP.
The university desperately needs the new administrative space, UC Berkeley Project Manager Kerry O’Banion told residents at the meeting. After absorbing several thousand new students over the past five years and concentrating much of its capital funding towards retrofitting older buildings, O’Banion said the university has a 450,000 square foot shortage of research space.
The project manager asserted that three-quarters of the new construction would be built on the main campus or adjoining city blocks—not in far-flung neighborhoods as past plans had proposed. The concept, he said, would mirror that of a computer or biotech company which are “designed for spontaneous interactions” among employees.
Neighbors expressed concerns that the main campus was essentially being transformed into an industrial park, but O’Banion said 95 percent of funding for new construction projects has come from public or non-private sources.
He also said that the university, which is not bound to city zoning rules and doesn’t pay city taxes, was committed to following Berkeley’s General (zoning) Plan and paying its fair share for mitigating the problems its expansion was bound to cause.
Although O’Banion has acknowledged neighborhood concerns that the realization of the plan would lead to more traffic congestion, he said that a lower rate of growth “would not meet the long term needs of the campus.”
After O’Banion spoke, the neighbors took the floor and the critiques and demands kept on flowing.
“It’s difficult for me to understand how a huge amount of taxpayer money can be put on top of the Hayward Fault,” said Raymond Mathis, an architect. Mathis, like many residents who spoke at Tuesday’s session, wanted to cap UC Berkeley growth and direct the new student growth to campuses with more expansion potential, such UC Davis.
Dean Metzger, chair of the Berkeley Transportation Commission and president of the Claremont Elmwood Neighborhood Association (CENA), warned that Berkeley didn’t have the financial resources to pay for the extra demand for city services and set forth a list of demands.
Metzger said he wanted the university to abide by a covenant with the city to limit the expansion of the Clark Kerr Campus, redesign transit routes for commuters, provide a free transit pass for faculty and staff, enforce rules prohibiting students in dorms from having cars, pay for parking meter maintenance, and prevent construction crews involved in the expansion from parking their trucks on residential blocks.
Traffic was also a concern for Martha Jones, a former CENA president. Jones doubted a UC plan to help the city deal with traffic congestion by installing a series of traffic lights would benefit her neighborhood. “Although [the university] said they would help pay for the traffic lights, I must refuse their generosity,” she said.
Others were more blunt.
“What we have in this document is a road map for war,” said Jim Sharp, who lives just north of the campus.
Philip Price, a city Parks and Recreation Commissioner and Lawrence Berkeley Lab employee, said, “The best thing they could do is just stop growing.”
Dorris Willingham argued the university should only expand on its main campus instead of cramming itself into Berkeley neighborhoods. “You have to do a little bit more damage there before wrecking our lives,” she contended.
One place neighbors were adamant that UC not expand to was the hill campus—home to the Strawberry Creek watershed. The only new development considered for the site is a 100-unit housing complex for new faculty members on Summit Road.
Marge Madigan, who lives on that street, said her neighborhood couldn’t handle an influx of new neighbors, who could make it more difficult to evacuate in the case of an earthquake or a fire. “If we have to get out quickly a traffic light isn’t going to help a bit,” she said.
For the most part, residents were skeptical that the university would address their concerns.
“I think we know what we say here won’t make the slightest bit of difference,” said Sharon Hudson.
By state law, the university must respond to all issues raised at the scoping sessions in a final Environmental Impact Report which will be sent to the UC Board of Regents for approval.
The city, meanwhile, is studying the Draft EIR and planning simultaneous negotiations with the university to pay a higher share of fees for city services such as sewers and public safety. The City Council will consider the university’s plan at a May 25 workshop and again at its June 8 meeting.