Berkeley’s town-gown dispute moved one step closer to the courtroom Thursday when the UC Board of Regents certified UC Berkeley’s 15-year-expansion plan.
“They’ve really put our backs to the wall,” said Mayor Tom Bates Tuesday after the Regents Committee on Grounds and Buildings unanimously recommended the plan for approval. Hours after the committee meeting, the City Council voted to proceed with a lawsuit.
Meanwhile the two sides remain several million apart on how much the university should pay the city as compensation for its exemption from city taxes that pay for services such as the fire department and sewers.
The university has offered to boost its annual payments by about $500,000 to $1.1 million, said UC Berkeley Chancellor Robert Birgeneau after Tuesday’s committee meeting. City officials, facing a $7.5 million deficit this year, are holding out for between $3 and $5 million annually, according to UC spokesperson Trey Davis.
Last year, the city released a consultant’s report that calculated the city lost $11 million annually in unpaid services to the university. UC officials criticized the study for not factoring in university contributions to the city’s economy.
Bates refused to disclose the city’s proposal, but said he was asking that the university pay in the neighborhood of $1.7 million for fire services and $1.4 million for sewers.
Chancellor Birgeneau argued that annual payments of $3 million would cost 300 students the chance to attend the university. “We’re willing to help [the city] in any way except take 300 students out of the university,” he said.
The university’s Long Range Development Plan (LRDP) projects 2.2 million square feet of new administration and academic space, 2,600 new dorm beds and 1,800 to 2,300 new parking spaces by 2020. The university would defer 500 parking spaces if AC Transit builds a planned rapid bus system to serve the campus.
City officials charge that the plan will further congest city streets and give UC Berkeley a blank check for a building boom that would strain city services and skirt strict environmental review.
At Tuesday’s committee meeting, the mayor urged the Regents’ committee to postpone a vote until March to bolster the city’s negotiating leverage.
“I believe if you ratify this we will be at a competitive disadvantage with the university,” he said. “They’ll have gotten what they need and can move forward.”
Regent Odessa Johnson rejected the mayor’s argument, saying that the differences would take more than a few months to iron out and that the Regents would monitor negotiations even thought the plan’s approved. “I’m sure Berkeley will keep us informed how [the negotiations] go,” she said.
Beyond the issue of university payments, the city has also failed to compel the university to pinpoint the exact location of new construction and set thresholds for which projects would require environmental impact reports—the most stringent form of environmental review.
More progress has been made in bridging the divide over parking. UC Berkeley is offering to trim the number of new parking spaces further to below 1,800, and is looking to include BART as part of its faculty transit pass, said Irene Hegarty, the university’s director of community relations.
Despite the Regents’ decision, Bates still hoped to avert a lawsuit, which he estimated would cost the city $250,000. A lawsuit could stall university construction on an Asian studies center whose EIR is tied to the long range plan and, if successful, could force the university to revise the plan.
Should the city file suit, Bates expects it will retain as its lead attorney Michelle Kanyon of the Oakland firm McDonough Holland & Allen PC.
At Tuesday’s committee meeting, Bates was joined by Councilmembers Gordon Wozniak, Darryl Moore, Linda Maio and Kriss Worthington, about a dozen city residents and two UC Berkeley student leaders.
Addressing student concerns over the proposed increase in parking spaces, ASUC Executive Affairs Vice President Liz Hall told the committee, “If you’re really concerned about sustainability, you will send this plan back to UC Berkeley.”
Andrea Pflaumer, a member of Berkeleyans for a Livable University Environment, urged the university to locate new research facilities in Oakland and Richmond. “Rather than make Berkeley bust at the seams any further, the university could use new facilities to help communities in a much broader area,” she said.
In addressing the committee, Chancellor Birgeneau defended the plan’s scope of new development as well as its lack of specifics as necessary to meet future demand for research facilities.
“More and more of the responsibility for research in the U.S. is falling on universities,” he said, adding that new endeavors like state-funded stem cell research meant that the university must keep its building plans flexible.