Janice Thomas lives on Panoramic Hill just southeast of Memorial Stadium, close enough to keep track of Cal football games by the yells of the crowd and the blasts of the nearby cannon. This past Saturday morning, as the city filled up for the Big Game against Stanford, Thomas had a big problem.
“Traffic isn’t moving on Prospect Street,” she said. “It’s never been this bad. There’s no access to our neighborhood.”
And it was getting worse. Busses carrying hundreds of Stanford students arrived just then on Fraternity Row for the game.
Minutes later brothers at Alpha Sigma Phi jeered at the caravan of cardinal red. “Go back to Palo Alto,” screamed Jaime Mondragon at Stanford students, some of whom were wearing shirts that read “Berkeley, Not Bad For a Public School”.
“You guys suck,” Mondragon shouted as he traded middle fingers with several Stanford fans. “Today belongs to us.”
He was right. Cal won Saturday’s Big Game 41-6 and students on Fraternity Row partied and heckled Stanford fans back to their busses.
But for many residents who live within walking distance from the stadium, their ire was not directed at Stanford, but at Berkeley—the city for not managing traffic or enforcing its parking laws, and the university for putting its 74,000 capacity stadium in a residential neighborhood right on top of an earthquake fault.
“The best thing about this Big Game is that it will be two years until there is another,” said Jim Sharp, who lives just north of the UC Berkeley campus.
Sharp and other residents are concerned that future disruptions may grow worse.
UC Berkeley is preparing to sprint forward with a $140 million fundraising drive to renovate and expand the dilapidated 81-year-old stadium. Time is of the essence if they hope to retain third-year head coach Jeff Tedford, who is expected to draw interest from traditional college football powers after resurrecting Cal’s moribund program and putting the school in position for its first Rose Bowl appearance in 46 years.
“They keep saying Tedford won’t stay unless there are big changes to the stadium, yet the neighbors have no idea what kind of changes they want to make,” said Andrew Masri, who lives just southeast of the stadium on Panoramic Hill.
No other neighborhood has faced a bigger impact from Cal’s sudden emergence as a football power or its surging attendance at home games which topped an average of 64,000 fans a game this year—nearly double the average from three years ago.
For Ernest Sotelo, the Big Game began Saturday at 7:30 a.m. when he was awakened by the Cal band taking the field to practice. Sotelo didn’t need to turn on the television Saturday to know what was happening inside Memorial Stadium. His house, which he bought in 1959, the last year the Bears went to the Rose Bowl, has a view of the scoreboard and chants of “Block That Punt” echoed in his living room.
Sotelo, who spent some of his undergraduate days at Cal in the bleachers, doesn’t begrudge students their fun, but fears that the university plans to maximize the stadium for all it’s worth at the expense of neighbors.
Although UC Berkeley officials have remained silent on their renovation plans, neighbors fear any project would include permanent television quality lights for night games, which UC had previously proposed, and would include more events like concerts to help offset construction costs.
This year the university unveiled temporary lights for the first-ever night game at Memorial Stadium and has continued to test them during some weekday afternoons to the fury of neighbors like Sotelo.
“It’s like someone’s driving at you with their high beams on,” he said.
Jeanne Allen, who lives a few doors down from Sotelo said the lights have been accompanied by piped-in crowd noise during several late afternoon practices this year.
“You can mentally prepare for the game, but it’s the two to three days before with the fake crowd noise and the lights that are really annoying,” she said.
On the five or six Saturdays a year when the Cal team plays a home game, Allen said she or her husband has to stay home to make sure fans don’t climb on her roof to watch the game. “Once they get up there, they’re really hard to get down,” she said. “Sometimes if it’s windy on a Saturday night, we hear beer cans blowing around on the roof.”
Trying to leave is a chore as well. Allen said it took her two hours to drive from her house to the corner of Claremont and Ashby avenues after the previous home game, a distance of about a mile and a half. “It’s scary to think what would happen if there were an emergency,” she said. “There’s only one route out.”
When it comes to traffic and parking impacts, Panoramic Hill is far from the only neighborhood affected by big crowds at Memorial Stadium, on the southeastern portion of the campus.
“We have to schedule our lives around UC’s Schedule,” said Doug Buckwald, who lives at Dwight Way and College Avenue. Buckwald said he decided to stay home Saturday knowing that he would never be able to park again near his house that afternoon if he moved his car.
On the north side of the campus, traffic and parking enforcement has been so lacking that Roger Van Ouytsel has spent every Saturday home game taking pictures of cars parked illegally in front of expired parking meters, at red zones and at disabled parking spaces.
For the first time this year, he said, police and parking officers patrolled the area and handed out tickets. On Ridge Road between Le Roy and Euclid avenues, several cars were ticketed in red zones and preferential parking zones, but a row of cars at expired meters had no green envelopes under their windshields.
Van Ouytsel said he talked to a parking officer on duty who said he had given out more than 100 tickets Saturday, but didn’t have enough time to ticket everyone on the block.
In all, Van Ouytsel counted 50 unticketed cars that were parked illegally. “The good news is this was the city’s best day ever, but it’s still losing thousands in revenue,” he said.
Facing a stream of complaints from neighbors this season, Assistant City Manager Arrietta Chakos said the city doesn’t have the resources to police football games to the level sought by residents.
“We’re in a time of tremendous budget cuts,” she said. “We’re giving it the best shot we can.”
On Saturday, the city provided 30 regular officers and seven reserve officers to help police the game and manage traffic, all paid for by UC Berkeley, said BPD spokesperson Joe Okies.
For the past three home games, the city has hired two additional officers to work the football games, said Lt. Bruce Agnew, of the BPD’s traffic division. He added that police had not completed a tally of the number of tickets given at Saturday’s game and that previous tallies weren’t readily accessible.
The extra staff gave the city 12 on-duty parking officers on Saturdays, four of them dedicated to parking enforcement at football games. The UC Berkeley Athletic Department pays for two of the parking officers dedicated to the football game. However, those officers work only until 1 p.m., just after the opening kickoff, to identify cars parked on streets that are designated for press or other officials officials so they can be towed before the game.
Irene Hegarty, UC Berkeley’s community relations director, said the university encourages fans to take mass transit to the game and offers them free shuttles to the stadium.
She said her office has received complaints from neighbors in Panoramic Hill about the fake crowd noise and lights during practices, but no solution has been found yet.
Not everyone is angry over the crowds at Memorial Stadium. Restaurants along College Avenue were crowded on Saturday evening and Emerson Elementary School opened its parking lots to fans for between $30 and $40 a spot.
“It’s the biggest fundraiser our school has,” said John Hood, an Emerson parent. “We’re all hoping the coach stays.” He said last year the school raised $12,000 from parking fees. Fraternities and student co-ops also cleared out their lots so they could charge top dollar for parking spaces Saturday.
Meanwhile Thomas and other neighbors want UC to consider other sites for a new Memorial Stadium, preferably one with access to freeways and mass transit. They have proposed building a stadium at Golden Gate Fields on the Albany shoreline, and Rex Dietderich, a retired Berkeley firefighter, continues to lobby for his plan to build a stadium at Oxford and Center streets. Former Mayor Shirley Dean championed Dietderich’s proposal during her failed re-election bid against Mayor Tom Bates, a former Cal football player and proponent of keeping the stadium at its current location.
Thomas charged that the university is purposely misrepresenting the project as a renovation instead of a rebuild. She said a stadium rebuild at the site would likely require the university to conduct an extensive environmental review that would force it to consider alternative sites.
“I just want a process,” she said, adding that public hearings and a review of alternative locations should be part of any proposed changes to the stadium.
Hegarty said the university would decide if it needed to do an environmental impact report once it had settled on the extent of the project. She added, though, that UC Berkeley was intent on keeping the football stadium at its current home.
“It’s a historic structure and it’s walking distance for students,” she said.
Students reveling on Fraternity Row after the game Saturday sided with the university on the fate of the stadium.
“How are we supposed to get to Albany?” asked David Bui, an undergraduate student. “It would be bad for the environment and you’d lose the sense of community.”