Friday December 03, 2004

On Tuesday, Dec. 7, the City Council will vote on the Foothill Bridge, which UC Berkeley proposes building on upper Hearst Avenue, at the intersection of La Loma, Hearst, and Gayley Road. To build this bridge, UC Berkeley must obtain an encroachment permit (airspace approval), from the city.  

The proposed bridge will run over Hearst Avenue, connecting the La Loma Student Residence Hall to the Hillside Student Residence Hall on the south side of the street. The bridge is supposedly designed to aid the mobility of disabled students trying to get between the two residence halls. Councilmember Spring has pointed out however, that it is questionable whether the bridge as designed will serve this purpose. UC planners concede that the bridge will not solve mobility problems for disabled students who need to get down the hill to the main campus. The proposed bridge will also not improve safety for northside residents or other non-student pedestrians because it is only for the few disabled students living in the La Loma and Upper Hill residences. Access to the bridge will require a student identification card and a key to get into an elevator that goes up to the bridge.   

The university first presented their blueprints for the bridge in 1988, in conjunction with the construction of the two residence halls. Both residence halls were planned to be able to house students with disabilities, but all the dining and meeting facilities are in the Hillside residence, across the street. Opposition to the bridge from city officials and residents has kept the university from obtaining rights to the airspace that belongs to the city and its citizens for 16 years. Now UC Berkeley is back with this proposal for a final vote before the City Council on Dec. 7. The university was wrong about the bridge in 1988 and they are still wrong today. 

Neighborhood residents have additional objections. Residents living uphill argue that the bridge will obstruct their views, and this could jeopardize their property values. Other residents fear that allowing the university to build the bridge will set a precedent, which will make it easier for the university to build more bridges in the future. For most of the residents in the northside neighborhood, the bridge represents yet another expansion of the campus, and institutionalization of residential areas.  

The Public Works Commission, among others, criticized UC Berkeley’s concept. The Public Works Commission’s compelling analysis, delivered to the council in July 2004, concluded that UC Berkeley failed to meet certain minimum Berkeley Municipal Code 16.18.080 requirements and therefore, by law, must be denied an airspace permit. They also stated that the bridge would add nothing to non-student pedestrian safety.  

Berkeley Municipal Code 16.18.080 demands that UC Berkeley come up with alternatives to a bridge such as building a tunnel under Hearst Avenue, remodeling the residence halls, redesigning the intersection on La Loma/Hearst/Gayley Road, or constructing a new and improved pathway to Gayley Road from the Hillside Residence. UC Berkeley’s claim that they have to build the bridge in order to comply with the Americans With Disabilities Act is untrue. It is not necessary that disabled students need to be housed in the La Loma residence at all. In the new student residence halls on the south side of campus, all the units are either handicapped-accessible or convertible within 24 hours.  

In public hearings and City Council meetings, residents requested that UC Berkeley protect all pedestrians, bicyclists, handicapped students and neighbors alike, by improving and redesigning the dangerous intersections along the campus corridor and especially the La Loma/Hearst/Gayley intersection. Citizens also strongly urged the city to suggest to UC Berkeley that they conduct a comprehensive study about the possibility of building a tunnel at this intersection. UC Planner David Mandel stated before several city commissions that scientific studies undertaken by UC proved that building a tunnel was not feasible. However, UC Berkeley did no comprehensive studies when they submitted their recent bridge plan to the City of Berkeley in 2004. Their study from 1988 is outdated, new technologies are now available.  

UC students have recently stated that the process of gathering signatures from students living in the two Foothill Residence halls, in support of the bridge, was flawed and deceiving, because students were not told about the issues involved, and the possible alternatives. Therefore, the results of this signature drive by UC Berkeley’s principal planners are questionable. In fact, only a handful of disabled students were willing to sign in support of the bridge. It is therefore not surprising that on Nov. 12 the Daily Californian wrote a firm, negative opinion against building the Foothill Bridge, under the headline “Don’t Build Bridge.”  

“[I]t is a waste of resources that could end up causing more problems than it solves… Despite the potential benefits of the bridge, proponents ignore the fact that other student housing facilities can accommodate most students with disabilities. In fact, the university has no trouble-accommodating students who need such consideration. On top of the extraneous nature of the project, the bridge would not solve the problem it professes to address. ... If the university is bent upon bettering housing complexes for the benefit of Berkeley students, this construction project is not the way to do so. While we appreciate the University’s good intentions, we believe the bridge is unnecessary and its negative effects far outweigh the potential convenience for La Loma residents.” 

Building a bridge is not the solution for students or residents. The best way to solve the problems related to the Hearst, La Loma, Gayley intersection is to send UC Berkeley back to the drawing board to come up with alternative solutions that meet the Berkeley Municipal Code requirements. UC should then request a new hearing process. As concerned citizens, members of BLUE, and northside neighborhood residents, we are major stakeholders in the decision making process because our quality of life will be affected by whatever decisions are made. We share the same physical environment as UC students, and have common concerns about safety, traffic, parking, pollution, health, land-use, urban planning and design. Please join us in opposing UC Berkeley’s Foothill Bridge project. Let’s look for alternative solutions that will work for both the Northside Neighborhood and the student community. 


The Northside Neighborhood Association Steering Committee: Roger Van Ouytsel, Carl Friberg, Paula Smith, Jane Tanton, Jed Parsons and Berkeleyans for a Livable University Environment.