Facing widespread public opposition, UC Berkeley announced Monday it will postpone submitting its Long-Range Development Plan (LRDP) to the UC Board of Regents.
Originally scheduled to go before the regents for approval in November, the university will now submit the plan in January. School officials said the delay will give them time to reconsider two of the plan’s most controversial items: building 100 units of faculty housing high up in the Berkeley hills and building up to 2,300 new parking spaces, a 30 percent increase for the campus.
“Those appear to be the two items that deserve the most analysis,” said UC Berkeley Planner Kerry O’Banion. He added that the university was still in the process of responding to over 300 letters of public comment and wouldn’t reveal if the university was considering other amendments to the plan, which was widely panned by residents, student leaders and city officials after the university released it last spring.
The plan, which will guide new university construction on the central campus and neighboring city streets through 2020, calls for an aggressive expansion of university infrastructure. Besides the 2,300 new parking spaces, the plan envisioned 2,600 new dorm beds and 2.2 million square feet of academic and support space—about three-times more than the proposed increase in the university’s last strategic plan approved in 1990.
To become official university policy, the regents must approve the university’s draft environmental impact report (DEIR) for the plan. Berkeley could try to stop implementation of the plan by filing a lawsuit against the university on grounds the plan violates the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA).
The city responded to the report with a critique charging the university’s plans would increase traffic, threaten the “eclectic and diverse” character of the downtown and add to the city’s fiscal burden by taking more property off the tax rolls. It also argued that the proposed faculty housing on the sparsely populated section of the Berkeley hills would exacerbate traffic and pose additional fire safety concerns.
Although UC Berkeley has not conceded to the city’s demand to recirculate the plan for public comment, as they agreed to do in 1990, city leaders were pleased with the university’s decision to postpone seeking approval from the regents.
“I think this is a good sign for the community,” said Assistant City Manager Arrietta Chakos, who coordinated the city’s reply to the plan. “It shows that the university is listening to criticisms of the plan.”
Councilmember Kriss Worthington praised the university’s decision and said the postponement will give the city a hint as to what kind of partner it will have in incoming chancellor Robert Birgeneau.
Birgeneau will take the reigns of the university next Wednesday, though Irene Hegarty, the university’s director of community relations didn’t expect his arrival to impact the plan.
“Certainly the new chancellor has a role to play, but I wouldn’t expect dramatic changes,” she said.
Hegarty said UC was looking into the city’s suggestions to reduce the need for parking by reducing the drive-alone rate. In October the university will unveil the “Bear Pass” which offers employees partially subsidized AC Transit bus passes.
Student leaders, who last spring blasted the university’s parking proposal, welcomed news of the postponement. “Building parking at the expense of student housing and academic space seemed foolish,” said Student External Affairs Vice President Elizabeth Hall.
ASUC Housing Director Jesse Arreguin argued that the new analysis on parking and faculty housing should require the university to recirculate the plan. “If they’re going to make significant changes the community needs to see what it looks like,” he said.
Jim Sharp, a resident who lives on the north side of campus, remained skeptical the city would ultimately compel UC to alter its plans. Sharp fought against a university development plan for the northeast quadrant of campus, but said the city, after threatening a lawsuit, ultimately settled for minimal mitigations from the university.