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City Council Considers UC Deal Behind Closed Doors By MATTHEW ARTZ

Tuesday May 17, 2005

The Berkeley City Council will meet in closed session today (Tuesday) to discuss its lawsuit against UC Berkeley. There will be a 20-minute public comment session at 9 p.m. before the council goes behind closed doors. Councilmember Dona Spring said that the council could take a vote at the meeting on a city deal to drop its lawsuit against the university. 

City officials refused to comment on the meeting and councilmembers interviewed Monday said they had not been briefed on what items would be presented to them. 

According to Spring, the council has already voted in favor of a settlement framework under which UC Berkeley would pay more each year than it has in the past for city services like sewer fees in return for the city’s dropping the lawsuit, filed in February under the California Environmental Quality Act to challenge the university’s environmental impact report on its 15-year development plan. 

The city’s suit claimed that UC Berkeley’s Long Range Development Plan lacked sufficient detail and gave the university a green light for a building boom that would further drain city services. 

Although Spring hinted that the university had not moved far from their public offer last January to pay the city $1.2 million a year for city services—about double this year’s payments—councilmembers have been forbidden to discuss the negotiations. 

The gag order stems from a confidentiality agreement signed between the city and UC Berkeley, said City Attorney Manuela Albuquerque. She said the agreement was designed to prevent either side from using statements made during negotiations at a trial. She added that the city had not yet filed a motion for a hearing on the merits of its case. 

Albuquerque refused to comment on whether Spring’s comments about the council vote at a previous closed session meeting violated the confidentiality agreement. Spring said that after her comments were published, Albuquerque e-mailed councilmembers warning them that even to say the two sides were close to a deal violated the confidentiality agreement. 

The council is under intense pressure from civic activists to drive a hard bargain with the university. Many residents blame UC Berkeley, which as a state institution has maintained that it is exempt from city taxes and assessments, for contributing to mounting city budget deficits. They fear that continued campus growth will cause the city’s quality of life to deteriorate. 

With passions high, Councilmember Kriss Worthington argued that the city should publicize the proposal. 

“The public deserves to know what’s proposed in the deal,” he said. “If the public only has a chance to respond after the council has already approved it, it would be a tall order to convince the council to change its mind.” 

Worthington also questioned whether the city could refuse to reveal the proposal made by the university. 

Albuquerque said that in order to release the proposal to the public, a majority of the council would have to vote to waive its attorney-client privilege.  

Councilmember Gordon Wozniak said the council would be best served by keeping the negotiations private.  

“[If we served the interests of] a few citizens who want to micromanage everything and look over our shoulders, I don’t think we would be able to negotiate anything,” he said. “That is why you have elected representatives.” 

Albuquerque said the council would announce the outcome of Tuesday’s meeting only if it approved a settlement.