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‘Scathing’ Report Blasts UC Development Plan

By JOHN ENGLISH Special to the Planet
Tuesday June 29, 2004

It’s clear that the proposed new Long Range Development Plan (LRDP) for UC Berkeley is a very growth-oriented plan. While its enrollment hike would be comparatively modest (from a two-semester average of 31,800 in 2001-2002 to a projected 33,450 in future), other stats are quite dramatic. Between now and 2020, total “academic and support” space could increase by 18 percent, or 2.2 million gross square feet. That’s about three times the 15-year increase that was foreseen when the present LRDP was adopted in 1990. Parking could swell by 30 percent, or 2,300 spaces. Housing could increase by 32 percent, or 2,600 beds. These are net amounts, representing new construction minus demolitions. And they’re over and above the changes resulting from still-uncompleted projects—like the big new Stanley Hall and the giant Underhill garage—that the regents have already approved. 

Not surprisingly, the LRDP and its DEIR (Draft Environmental Impact Report) drew numerous comments during the review period that ended on June 18. Among them was a massive, and basically scathing, critique by the City of Berkeley. 

Nature of the LRDP 

The planned growth evidently is driven less by enrollment pressure than by “research in the public interest.” UC expects outside funding for research to increase by 3.6 percent a year. 

Besides being growth-oriented, the proposed LRDP is quite generalized. It makes no commitment to specific developments. Instead, it sets a broad “strategic framework” for future projects. It does say that its growth totals couldn’t be substantially exceeded without a future amendment of the LRDP, but it doesn’t define “substantially.” The LRDP is also vague about locations. It divides the campus and its surroundings into a series of “zones”—including a Housing Zone that overlaps several of the other zones and extends far out into the community—and sets a maximum growth quota for each of them. But each zone is large, and the LRDP doesn’t say where construction should occur within it.  

The city comments seriously fault the LRDP for its vagueness. They even say it’s hard to imagine any likely future project that UC couldn’t construe as conforming to the plan. 


Impacts and Mitigation in General  

The DEIR claims that the LRDP would have only a few unavoidable significant effects. On topic after topic, it concludes that—at least with the envisioned mitigations—impact would be “less than significant.” For instance, it says that no significant impacts at all would result on aesthetics or land use. 

The DEIR does include a wide array of proposed mitigations. Many of them are highly generalized, though, and some have prominent qualifiers. For example, one of the proffered “continuing best practices” says that housing projects would meet municipal height and setback standards “as of July 2003” and “to the extent feasible.”  

The city comments that there really would be other significant impacts, and says that in general the impact assessment is insufficient. The city’s statement criticizes the DEIR for mitigation measures that are weakly stated and/or unproven. It alludes to the LRDP and DEIR as typified by “good sentiment, no commitment.” 

And the city fears that because the LRDP’s DEIR so sweepingly dismisses the potential for significant impacts, UC could in future routinely evade doing EIRs on specific projects that it would construe as fitting within the LRDP. 



UC is planning several of its nearby major sites quite separately from the 2020 LRDP. They include University Village Albany and the Richmond Field Station. Then there’s Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, which the university runs separately from “UC Berkeley” as such. UC still has under preparation a new LRDP and DEIR for the Lab itself. The university apparently expects that during that LRDP’s timeframe of 2004-2025, total floor space on the LBNL’s hill site could grow by 45 percent. 

The city comments that the hill site is a “donut hole” nearly surrounded by UC Berkeley, that the research missions of LBNL and some UC Berkeley departments are closely intertwined, and that both LRDPs will be voted on by the same lead agency: the Board of Regents. It complains that UC has separated impact analysis in ways that largely defy evaluation. The city concludes that both LRDPs should have been assessed by the same environmental document, and that the decision to “bifurcate” environmental review violated the spirit and letter of CEQA.  


Parking, Transit, and Traffic 

While one of the new LRDP’s policies is to “reduce demand for parking through incentives for alternate travel modes,” another is to “increase the supply of parking to accommodate existing unmet demand and future campus growth.” 

The city sees the former as being directly contradicted by the latter, especially by the latter’s reference to “existing unmet demand.” The city says that parking “demand” depends on factors like availability of substitute travel modes, and that UC should consider today’s actual travel behavior. It concludes that UC is dodging real commitment to a transit-first strategy, and that the LRDP’s proposed 2,300-space parking growth is unjustified. Furthermore, the city suggests that parking which has already been approved but not yet built should be regarded as new parking. 

The city also calls for UC to help pay the cost of enforcing the Residential Parking Permit program.  

According to the DEIR, the LRDP would unavoidably worsen traffic conditions on some segments of University Avenue, San Pablo, Dwight, Shattuck, and Ashby. As for intersections as such, the DEIR says congestion would or could significantly increase at two in West Berkeley, one north of the campus, three along the Derby/Warring/Piedmont corridor, one elsewhere on Bancroft, and three along Oxford. It proposes that as mitigation, traffic lights should be installed at those Derby/Warring/Piedmont, Bancroft, and Oxford intersections, and says that UC would contribute to their cost “on a fair share basis.” 

The city comments that “fair share” by itself is much too vague, and also that UC’s contribution should take into account its existing, “baseline” impact. 

Traffic volume evidently would increase along the beleaguered corridor that locals call the “Warring Freeway.” Both UC and the city may have forgotten the circa-1990 University Neighborhoods Circulation Study, a major concern of which was how to divert motorists from this corridor onto alternative routes such as four-lane Telegraph Avenue. And speaking of Telegraph, it’s odd that neither UC nor the city specifically addresses something that could happen to it and thereby substantially alter traffic patterns. The EIR now under preparation by AC Transit is considering a “bus rapid transit” alternative (presumably still preferred by that agency) which would reduce the number of auto lanes on Telegraph below Dwight from four to just two.  


Fiscal Impacts 

The LRDP says some of its planned housing construction would need to be on land that UC doesn’t now own. New academic and support space—and parking—would be built just “primarily” on presently owned land. 

For that and other reasons, one of the city’s biggest concerns about the LRDP is its fiscal impact. A city-commissioned study recently concluded that in fiscal terms, UC costs the city much more than it contributes.  



The proposed LRDP features a strong westward thrust. More than a third of its net growth in academic and support space—and more than half the parking growth—could occur in its so-called Adjacent Blocks West zone. That would include all Downtown blocks that lie between Shattuck and Oxford/Fulton (in addition to the blocks that contain the Tang Center, the Oxford Tract, and the state’s Health Services building). Furthermore, the LRDP’s Housing Zone would include virtually all of downtown Berkeley. 

The city says it’s very concerned that UC expansion could “fundamentally alter the balance” in downtown Berkeley, changing the area from its current “eclectic and diverse” character into a student district increasingly like Telegraph.  


Development Along Transit Corridors 

The new LRDP warmly embraces the theme of high-density housing along transit corridors. A map shows its Housing Zone as including prominent ribbons stretching up and down Shattuck and Adeline, down University Avenue into West Berkeley, down Telegraph into Oakland, and even intermittently along College Avenue.  

One pertinent issue is raised by the LRDP’s statement on housing projects’ conformance to municipal height and setback standards “as of July 2003.” Does this mean UC would disregard, for example, any tightened standards that the city may soon enact for University Avenue?  



The DEIR includes a chapter that poses and discusses several broad alternatives. For instance, two of them are dubbed “lower enrollment and employment growth” and “no new parking and more transit incentives.” 

But the city views that chapter as fundamentally flawed. It criticizes UC for including “straw men” alternatives. It seems to suggest that a “real” option about parking could involve a smaller increment of spaces, with some of them being in satellite locations. And it says in general that the alternatives presented aren’t sufficiently assessed to allow meaningful comparison with the proposed LRDP.  



The city statement blasts UC for having essentially presented the LRDP “whole cloth” to the community, with no real chance for give-and-take. 

It nonetheless seems likely that UC staff will basically just proceed with a Final EIR for release this fall, in time for presumed LRDP adoption at the Board of Regents’ meeting in November. 

However, the city believes the DEIR itself should be significantly revised—and recirculated. 


John English is a planner by profession, a UC alumnus, and a longtime resident of Berkeley’s Southside.