UC Berkeley officials are in the midst of negotiations to turn much of their Richmond Field Station into a corporate/academic research park, with the facility—including property retained by the university—to be renamed the Bayside Research Campus.
The U C Field Station property borders the proposed Campus Bay residential development, which has come under heavy criticism from neighbors and state legislators in recent weeks for the management of the toxic cleanup at the site.
The UC proposal calls for leasing over 70 of the 152 acres at the field station—the vast majority of developable land—to a private developer and construction of new buildings, which, when added to existing structures at the site, would provide two million square feet of research and office space.
The proposal was circulated with no public fanfare to would-be developers in a request for qualifications (RFQ) mailed out in on April 9.
Though university has selected a possible candidate for the project, no agreement has been signed, an d “we’re still trying to make sure there’s a viable and feasible strategy for developing the site,” said UC Project Manager Kevin J. Hufferd. “We’re not sure that’s the case.”
“The idea is to see if it can be redeveloped with a private developer that wou ld meet the university’s need for new facilities and generate some revenue” for the school, Hufferd said. “We have the opportunity to explore that now.”
Hufferd acknowledged that the university wasn’t eager for publicity on the proposal.
Among the goal s of the project cited in the RFQ is: “Creating an environment that supports private enterprise collaboration with university-lead research activities, and through working in partnership with the community to establish a unique market identity for the BRC.”
Ignacio Chapela, the UC Berkeley College of Natural Resources professor denied tenure after his blistering critiques of the University’s controversial research partnership with biotech giant Novartis, said the proposed project at the field station “ra ises the same questions as Novartis multiplied times ten.”
Despite overwhelming support from scientific colleagues both at the university and nationwide, Chapela was denied tenure and his last scheduled day at UC Berkeley is Dec. 31. In June, the UCB Academic Senate found Chapela’s rights “may have been violated in two ways.”
An outside review of the Novartis pact contracted by UCB and released in July found that Chapela’s criticisms of the accord had played a role in his ouster and that the university officials involved had ignored some of their own conflicts of interest. Chapela has appealed the ouster and is contemplating legal action.
“I was shocked to hear about” the RFQ at the field station, Chapela said. “The fact that it had never been discuss ed with the campus community is another example of how the public has lost insight into the operations of the university.
“This has the net effect of serving to cover up the effects of what could be a major toxics disaster.”
The field station, purchased by the university in 1950, is located just north of the troubled Campus Bay project, now the center of a battle over the handling of polluted soil and hazardous waste at the site.
The field station has its own toxics problems, much of them stemming from the same chemical manufacturing complex that polluted Campus Bay and others from a blasting cap factory that left soils contaminated with mercury.
While the RFQ called for the developer to bear the cleanup costs at the field station, Hufferd said “We h ave since backed away” and the provision has been dropped. Instead, the university would assume that portion of the burden not being borne by Zeneca Pharmaceuticals, the last owner of both Campus Bay and much of the UC site.
“UC does have some responsibi lity for the costs,” Hufferd said, “and some was allocated to Zeneca under prior agreements.”
The toxin-laced cleanup sites for which the university does bear responsibility are those associated with the activities of the California Cap Company, which pr oduced explosives and blasting caps made with the fulminate of mercury.
The resulting contamination produced in concentrations of the dangerous heavy metal compounds both in the dry, upland portions and in the wetlands bordering the site.
Remediation ef forts began after the San Francisco Regional Water Quality Board in September 2001 served the school with a cleanup order. Six years earlier, UC officials had spurned a voluntary cleanup proposal from the much stricter state Department of Toxic Substances Control (DTSC), an agency that includes greater scientific expertise and invites public participation in the cleanup process as all stages.
Mark Freiberg, director of UCB’s Office of Environment, Health & Safety, said the offer was declined by universit y official Susan Spencer because the school was then working with the federal Environmental Protection Agency on a voluntary cleanup effort of their own.
“EPA said there was not an imminent risk, but we knew we had to clean it up,” Freiberg said, so we b egan to do sampling” to test for concentrations of hazardous materials at the site.
“When the water board sends us an order, we’re forced to take action,” he said, adding that a Nov. 19 Daily Planet article erred in saying that the university asked the w ater board to take jurisdiction. “We didn’t turn to the water board. We opened our mail and found an order.
“The site is viewed primarily as a water hazard, but we’re also hauling away contaminated soil” from the upland portion of the site. “Soils contam inated by Zeneca are being hauled back to Zeneca”—that is, the Campus Bay site—“and contamination caused by others is being taken to approved toxic waste dumps.”
Freiberg said that “overall, regulators and community groups have seen our actions in a very positive way. We’re pretty proud of what we’re doing.”
That doesn’t hold for Sherry Padgett and the other community activists of Bay Area Residents for Responsible Development (BARRD), who have been critical of cleanup efforts at both sites and who have been harshly critical of the burial of Field Stations wastes at Campus Bay.
BARRD has called for the DTSC to take the oversight of both sites.
In addition to mercury and iron pyrite ash, the field station also has hot spots contaminated with PCBs, an organic compound linked to several health problems, another other compounds.