Final LRDP Shows UC’s True Colors— And the City Sees Red, Not Blue and Gold By SHARON HUDSON Commentary
I and many other residents of Berkeley were thrilled to read Mayor Bates’ fightin’ words in response to the final version of UC Berkeley’s 2020 Long Range Development Plan and the accompanying environmental impact report. I suppose that the mayor would not stick his neck out so publicly without an expectation of City Council support. Yet one hesitates to congratulate the mayor or the council too quickly, since in previous encounters with the university, similar city blustering has been followed by rapid retreat with the city’s municipal tail tucked demurely between its little municipal legs. Undoubtedly the message UCB received from those prior encounters contributed greatly to the university’s current arrogance. Nonetheless, it looks like 2005 may bring meaningful and even courageous action against UC expansion, and we should wholeheartedly support our Mayor and City in their strong stand on our behalf.
Like the previous draft version, the final LRDP/EIR is an adventure in mixed emotions. One cannot help but be impressed by the Berkeley citizens and organizations that contributed over 1,000 pages of well-considered comments, including the city’s own 100-page detailed criticism. Yet one cannot help but be equally amazed by UC’s stubbornly meaningless responses to almost all of the substantial concerns. In consideration of those thousand pages of citizen comment, perhaps 500 words—mostly insubstantial ones—were changed in the “revised” LRDP/EIR.
The first of only two substantial changes in the final LRDP is the elimination of 100 ill-advised faculty housing units in the “Hill Campus.” Few were surprised to see this concession to a part of town populated by wealthy, organized citizens well able to round up their own lawyers to confront UC. But I have faith that these informed citizens will not “go away” now that their own ox is no longer being gored. We’re all in this together, though some of us are much closer to the dead canary.
The other substantive change is that the final LRDP concedes a possible reduction by 500 of UC’s proposed 2,300 new parking spaces. However, this “concession” is contingent upon Berkeley’s and Oakland’s approval of Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) on Telegraph Avenue. This is apparently a bone thrown to those who think that the mere existence of parking spaces, rather than people’s need or desire to get from one place to another, “causes” traffic. This ham-handed UC bribe simply adds insult to injury. Not only does UC want to force its own LRDP down Berkeley’s throat, it also wants to force Berkeley to accept another problematic project—BRT—an idea that the city should assess for its benefit to Berkeley, not to UC. This is undignified and inappropriate meddling in municipal decision making.
I do not oppose bus rapid transit. In fact, the more rapidly buses transit out of my field of view, hearing, and smell, the better I like it. What I oppose is damage to Telegraph Avenue as a functional road for Berkeley’s drivers, and the possible diversion of traffic into an unbarricaded Willard Neighborhood. AC Transit’s own data show that a modest “enhanced” bus service will achieve two thirds of the ridership gain with only one quarter of the cost of BRT—with no damage to local traffic flow or to nearby neighborhoods.
But BRT is not intended to help neighborhoods. Instead, BRT will be the artery that feeds UC’s expansion by hustling in commuters from the south. But will the Nobel Laureates working at the new UC research park live in apartments along the Telegraph corridor? Of course not. UC should spend more of its efforts addressing the real commuting needs of faculty and staff, who have the highest drive-alone rates and tend not to live near transit. Or better yet, why not just reduce the number of people coming to the UC campus! Oh, what a brilliant idea! Why hasn’t anyone thought of it before?!
But wait—they have! The 1960 California Master Plan for Higher Education, which UC uses to justify its enrollment and research expansion, planned to distribute campuses based on the needs of the citizens of California, not the desires of individual branches of UC. In the interest of preserving good education, protecting overcrowded host cities like Berkeley, and placing new campuses in underserved parts of the state, that plan called for a cap of 27,500 students at all campuses—and the state was well aware of growing population pressures when it formed this plan. But UC Berkeley already exceeds this cap and plans to exceed it by a full 20 percent with the 2020 LRDP. Pushing so much expansion into Berkeley is not only bad for Berkeley, it is also very poor educational, physical, and fiscal planning for the state, because it is cheaper to place new facilities and their users in cities with lower land, construction, and housing prices. Less dense, less renowned cities would welcome and benefit by more prestigious research activities.
If UCB’s expansion were mostly about improving education, people might take a different view of it. But Berkeley’s expansion is primarily an expansion of research activities. Less and less of UC Berkeley’s budget now comes from the state, and more and more from private sources, and partnerships with private corporations are the wave of the future. What this means for academic independence remains to be seen. But what it means for Berkeley residents is that these private companies are now riding the privileged coattails of UC’s sovereign immunity and tax-exempt status, reaping the rewards of UCB’s legalized abuse of the Berkeley community. But why should one small city—or even less, a few neighborhoods—bear all the externalized costs of this research, be it semi-private research that benefits private companies, or public research that benefits the entire world? It’s time for a change. I dare to hope that Mayor Bates and new Council will finally bring that change in 2005.
Sharon Hudson is a longtime Berkeley resident and observer of development issues.