Mayor Tom Bates slammed UC Berkeley’s revised expansion plan released Monday and warned that Berkeley would likely resort to a lawsuit if the plan didn’t detail specific projects or exact locations where the university intends to build over the next fifteen years.
“We will fight this tooth and nail,” Bates told the Planet on Monday. Approval of the plan by the UC Board of Regents, Bates cautioned, would give UC Berkeley “a blank check” to begin a building boom the equivalent of constructing 23 new structures the size of the city’s six-story Civic Center Building.
“We’ll be left holding the bag with pollution and congestion that the development might entail,” he said.
The City Council will discuss the city’s legal options in a closed session Jan. 10 and again in a public meeting Jan. 11 to decide on the city’s response.
UC Berkeley is scheduled to take the final Environmental Impact Report (EIR) for its Long Range Development Plan (LRDP) to the UC Regents’ Buildings and Maintenance Committee Jan. 18 and then to the full board two days later. If it’s approved, as expected, the city would then have thirty days to file a lawsuit.
The plan, which will guide development on UC Berkeley’s main campus and nearby neighborhoods through 2020, projects up to 2,600 new dormitory beds, 2,300 new parking spaces and 2.2 million square feet of new administrative space—three times more than called for in the campus’ 1990 LRDP. The center campus would be slated to add one million square feet of new administrative and academic space, while blocks to the south and west of campus would add 1.2 million square feet of building.
In response to hundreds of comments from residents, the city and other agencies, the university released an amended EIR Monday that removes a proposed faculty housing development from the Berkeley hills and reduces the number of new parking spaces by 500 to 1,800. The parking decrease would be contingent on Berkeley and Oakland signing off on an AC Transit proposal to build an 18-mile rapid bus system from San Leandro to the University.
“We’re very pleased with the university’s decision,” said David Nasitir, who lives near the proposed faculty housing site, which neighbors had opposed.
Sharon Hudson, however, who lives in the south campus area and opposes the rapid transit system, called the university’s parking proposal, “a tactic designed to pressure the city,” into accepting the bus plan.
“They didn’t address the major problems we identified,” she said.
Bates praised the concessions, but insisted UC Berkeley’s plan still fell short. He feared that if the Regents approved the plan, the university would be able to propose specific projects with far less stringent environmental review.
By contrast, UC Berkeley’s 1990 Long Range Development Plan defined several projects already in the pipeline and identified specific sites where the university intended to build.
“The city’s complaint that they don’t like the plan’s format is not something we can deal with,” said Irene Hegarty, the university’s director for community relations.
Except for one project—The Tien Center For East Asian Studies, which will be located on the main campus—Hegarty said no other university project was ready for environmental analysis.
To address the city’s concerns, she said that the university would require the strictest form of environmental review for proposed new buildings which would affect the quality of life for city residents.
A lawsuit challenging the EIR, if supported by an injunction, could force the university to delay construction of the Tien Center, and if successful, could require it to recirculate the EIR with added analysis.
Three years ago the City Council threatened to file suit against the university for a major development along Hearst Avenue, but, to the displeasure of several North campus neighbors such as Jim Sharp, ultimately settled.
“I expect the same thing to happen this time,” Sharp said. “When they have their feet to the fire the council tends to melt and settle for crumbs.”
With 15 days to formulate a response to the final version of the 1,300 page plan, the city has assembled a team of high-ranking city staff, along with the city’s legal consultant, Michelle Kenyon of the Oakland firm McDonough Holland & Allen PC, to pour over the document this week and have a report to the council for its meeting on Jan. 11.
“It’s going to be a full court press,” said Assistant City Manager Arrietta Chakos who is coordinating the effort. Chakos said that the city has yet to receive documentation on university fundraising efforts for which it made a public information request in November.
In requesting the records, the city is seeking evidence that the university has additional specific construction plans which it has not included in this LRDP. Excluding such projects would artificially reduce the impacts on the city that the university would be required to mitigate under state law.
“We believe they’re fundraising for specific projects which should be disclosed in the EIR,” City Planning Director Dan Marks said.
The university, which as a state entity is exempt from city assessments and taxes, owns 35 percent of Berkeley property, Mayor Bates said, making it the city’s largest landholder. The university’s exemption has been the source of increased friction with neighbors. Last year, the city, saddled with a $10.3 million deficit, released a report finding that it lost approximately $11 million annually in taxes and assessments the university didn’t pay. UC Berkeley officials have disputed the findings.