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Rumors of City-UC Deal on Long Range Plan By MATTHEW ARTZ

Tuesday May 10, 2005

The City Council has approved the framework of a settlement that would resolve its legal dispute with UC Berkeley, councilmembers said Friday. 

Although the exact deal has not been revealed or submitted to a formal vote, Councilmember Dona Spring intimated that the council had agreed in principle to a plan whereby the university would pay somewhat more each year for city services like sewer fees in return for the city’s dropping a lawsuit it filed against the university’s 15-year development plan. 

Spring, who opposes the deal, hinted that the university had not budged from its offer last January to pay the city approximately $1.2 million annually for city services. According to UC Berkeley’s Director of Community Relations Irene Hegarty, the university paid the city $542,000 this year for a variety of services. 

Berkeley’s town-gown dispute has intensified recently. In February the city filed suit over UC Berkeley’s Long Range Development Plan, arguing that it lacked sufficient detail and gave the university a green light for a building boom that would further drain city services. 

Then in March, Berkeley demanded that the university pay the city’s tax on parking spaces, and two weeks ago, the council voted to send the university a $2.2 million sewer bill if a deal was not reached. 

According to Spring, the proposed deal would end all of these disputes and it would also include new land use standards for areas close to campus, including her own council district, which she found particularly objectionable and blamed on Mayor Tom Bates.  

“I feel the mayor is negotiating out of what his pro-development agenda is around the campus,” she said. 

Spring said she was prohibited from detailing the specifics of the framework because it was presented during a closed session meeting of the City Council two weeks ago, but chastised her colleagues for approving it out of the public’s view. 

“It’s way out of line to make planning policies as part of a backroom deal,” she said. 

Mayor Bates declined to comment on negotiations. 

Tom Lollini, the university’s assistant vice chancellor for physical and environmental planning, who has been a party to negotiations, also refused comment. He did say that he had not been aware of the council’s vote in closed session. 

According to Hegarty, negotiations have been handled by attorneys and staff members for each side, with no councilmembers present. 

UC officials have previously said that Berkeley had sought between $3 and $5 million a year from the university in return for city services. Last year, the city released a report, rejected by university officials, that concluded UC Berkeley cost the city roughly $10.9 million a year in unpaid services and lost tax revenue. With city deficits mounting, Berkeley officials had sought to help close budget shortfalls by winning concessions from the university. 

“In this deal, we’re making concessions, both in terms of financial and planning standards, that we should not be making,” Spring said. Joining her in dissent during the closed session meeting, she said, was Councilmember Kriss Worthington. 

Worthington refused to comment on the negotiations. 

On the other side of the aisle, Councilmember Betty Olds said the deal was better than proceeding with a lawsuit. 

“I applaud them for trying to work out their differences,” she said, adding, “The university had the upper hand, we all knew that.” 

As a state institution, UC has maintained that it is exempt from local taxes and assessments.  

Still, Antonio Rossmann, a land use attorney who teaches at Boalt Hall, had said he thought the city had a good chance to prevail in its lawsuit against UC Berkeley’s long range plan. A legal victory would not necessarily have forced the university to scrap its plan to build 2.2 million square feet of new administration space through 2020, but it could have required the university to better remedy city concerns regarding increased traffic congestion and strains on city services. The lawsuit also could have forced UC Berkeley to delay new construction projects. 

Neighborhood leaders, who have pushed for the city to take a hard line against UC Berkeley, slammed the reported deal. 

“If they get nothing more than what UC offered them in January, it’s an embarrassment,” said Jim Sharp of Berkeleyans for a Livable University Environment (BLUE). “This was their big chance to extract concessions. I don’t know how [the council] can face their citizens.” 

Sharp was also upset that the terms approved by the council remain secret. Under the Brown Act, the council is not required to announce the vote taken in closed session unless it is the approval of a final agreement.  

Assuming that the vote in closed session would be communicated to UC, Terry Francke of Californians Aware, a open government advocacy group, questioned why the council wouldn’t release the information to residents. 

“The only reason for secrecy in this situation is to keep the information from getting to the other side,” he said. “If the university already knows about the vote, there is no principled reason to keep it confidential.” 

Peter Scheer, of the First Amendment Coalition, said that the council might have decided to keep the vote secret because they were seeking extra concessions from the university. 

“They could have told their lawyers, we’ve signed, now see if you can do a little better,” he said. “It’s hard [for an attorney] to negotiate when the adversary knows that his client has accepted the deal the way it is.” 

Assistant City Manager Arrietta Chakos said the council had not decided if a vote on a final deal would be made in public with residents allowed to give their opinions. Often for litigation settlements the council announces a vote taken in closed session, but doesn’t debate the issue in public or take public comment. However, Chakos said, in this case the council might adopt a different course. 

“There are any number of routes they could take,” she said. “There has been no decision that I’ve heard about how they wish to proceed.”