Commentary: UC Agreement Conflicts With CEQA, Berkeley City Charter By DONA SPRING

Tuesday August 09, 2005

Reports from participants at a recent Leconte neighborhood meeting had Mayor Tom Bates making some astounding allegations. Mr. Bates reportedly told people that they were paranoid regarding the UC Long Range Development Plan (LRDP) lawsuit settlement agreement. He denied that it was kept secret from the public or that it gives the university veto power over the Downtown Area Plan (DAP), and asserted that the city was completely in charge of the plan which controls development standards including zoning.  

Bates was asked why the public should trust him, since the LRDP agreement was kept secret despite his promises. He responded saying: “Come on, it wasn’t a secret; it was printed in the newspapers, thanks to a councilmember.” 

Nonsense! What Mr. Bates was referring to was a May 6 Daily Californian article: “Under the agreement, UC Berkeley would not pay the city more than it originally offered in January, and the city would drop its February lawsuit against the university, said Councilmember Dona Spring.” (Note: no direct quote.)  

I do not control how reporters use my words. When asked, I referred all reporters to prior press statements by UC spokespeople regarding their best and final offer. I never said the City Council had agreed to accept that amount, as the agreement was not final. (Later, the city attorney told me that the statement I gave was fine.) I even went over the quote with the reporter and after his misleading reports, requested a printed clarification. The Berkeley Daily Planet reporter also paraphrased the Daily Californian. 

If I had been inclined to release confidential information, it would have been to blow the whistle on the shocking giveaway to UC of Berkeley’s downtown (a third of the council district I represent). But I held back because of confidentiality requirements. Had citizens known sooner the contents of the agreement, they would have had an easier opportunity of intervening through the courts. It also reveals why the agreement was kept secret despite previous public promises by the mayor.  

There are multiple sections in the agreement about UC’s control of the plan and its process including: “Joint review of DAP and EIR: because the DAP is a Joint Plan, there shall be no release of draft or final DAP or EIR without concurrence by both parties. UC Berkeley reserves the right to determine if the DAP or EIR meets the Regents’ needs.” (Section II. B. 6., 7.) 

This provision violates the Berkeley city charter which gives the power to set development and zoning standards to a majority on the City Council. It sets a unthinkable precedent of the council ceding sovereignty over land-use on private property to a corporate entity. It also violates state law on CEQA by allowing the university to dictate what will be determined as an environmental impact and what the mitigations will be.  

The DAP-EIR process is a sham that will waste taxpayer dollars and time. It perpetuates the ability of the mayor and the chancellor to do backroom deals. There is even a bludgeon for UC to force its way. If the downtown plan is not done within 48 months then the city will be fined $15,000 a month until it’s done. 

The settlement agreement weakened the city in other ways. Instead of defending the current Downtown Area Plan, which was reviewed in 2001 with a legitimate public process in the General Plan update, this agreement gives power to the university to change the zoning to accommodate their development and to take properties off the tax rolls. Before the agreement, the university had agreed in its EIR to abide by city zoning or do a project EIR. Previously the city had a position (which had been adhered to by UC) that it was not to take any more properties off the tax rolls through acquisition.  

The citizens were better off with the chancellor’s pre-lawsuit offer which made no mention of the DAP or taking properties off the tax rolls. Calling people paranoid for bringing up the disturbing facts of this terrible fiasco only fuels the outrage. The mayor should own up to his mistake and instead of forcing poor citizens to raise tens of thousands of dollars for court costs, he should plead with the chancellor to at least return to his original offer. 


Councilmember Dona Spring represents Berkeley’s District 4.