UC Berkeley dominated Berkeley’s land use news in 2005.
The university ignited last year’s first fireworks on Jan. 3 when it formally unveiled its 1,300-page Long Range Development Plan (LRDP) through the year 2020—a plan that seeks to transform both the face of the campus itself and the shape of downtown Berkeley.
The plan included 2.2 million square feet of projected new academic and administrative buildings, of which more than half will be constructed off-campus, both downtown and to the south of the campus. Also included were 2,600 new dormitory beds and up to 2,300 new parking spaces.
The plan didn’t cover an additional 2 million square feet of new construction targeted for the university’s Richmond Field Station, where a joint academic/corporate research park is planned.
The LRDP ignited a firestorm of criticism, both from city officials and from residents worried about the impacts of the expansion on their neighborhoods and streets, the impacts on local government and the possible threats to landmarked buildings.
Under state law the university is exempt from local zoning regulations and city plans, and any land the university acquires is likewise exempt.
And because the university doesn’t pay property taxes on land it owns or leases for academic uses, off-campus construction could mean additional revenue losses to the city and its school system—both of which have been struggling to find ways to avoid cuts to existing programs.
A third concern for the city was the impacts on city services, including roads, sewers and emergency services.
The city filed a lawsuit on Feb. 23, charging that the plan violated the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) by willfully withholding crucial information about planned projects and by failing to offer adequate measures to minimize the expansion’s impact on the surrounding city.
The city also sought $4.1 million annually from UC to help cover the actual costs of estimated $10.9 million in city services provided to the university.
After negotiations with the university, the City Council voted to settled the suit on May 25, with three councilmembers whose districts would bear some of the heaviest impacts voting no: Dona Spring, Kriss Worthington and Betty Olds.
The university agreed to increase annual contributions to city coffers to $1.2 million from the previous $500,000 and to join with the city to create a new downtown plan—which would not be binding for the school.
The settlement sparked still more outrage, and at least two lawsuits, one of which was dismissed and is now on appeal and another which is still pending.
The university agreed to contribute up to $250,000 to cover half the expenses of preparing the new downtown plan, though the university can cut its annual funds to the city by $180,000 if a final plan isn’t adopted within four years of the settlement date.
The newly constituted Downtown Area Plan Advisory Committee, formed after the settlement, held its first meeting on Nov. 21.
Southeast campus plans
University officials offered an outline on Feb. 3 of their plans for one phase of the southeast campus area expansion, when the controversy over the LRDP was already boiling.
Chancellor Robert Birgeneau announced a $120 million renovation of the western wall of Memorial Stadium and plans for a new $100 million-plus “academic commons” building just across Piedmont Avenue that would provide space for programs of the Boalt Hall Law School and the Haas School of Business.
The news prompted an angry response from Berkeley Mayor Tom Bates, who was outraged that the university hadn’t shared its plans with the city before Birgeneau’s announcement.
Further details emerged months later during a Nov. 10 press conference, where it was revealed that the stadium retrofit would include a 132,500-square-foot student athlete high performance center to be built next to the western wall and a complete seismic retrofit and upgrade of the stadium itself—which would include the addition of luxury sky boxes above the stadium rim, as well as permanent night lighting.
Also included in the plans is a $60 million, 845-space underground parking lot to be built at the site of Maxwell Family Field to the north of the stadium. The playing field itself would be restored atop the facility.
By the time of the press conference, costs for the academic commons building had escalated to between $140 million and $160 million.
All funds for the stadium and academic commons projects, repeatedly hailed by university officials as “first class” and “four star” facilities, are to come from private donations.
City Planning Director Dan Marks attended a preliminary CEQA scoping session on the project on Dec. 8, where he learned that the project was already entering the schematic phase of designs—which, he said, could render any input during the preparation of an Environmental Impact Report (EIR) meaningless.
Marks wrote a scathing 19-page response to the university’s plans, which was approved by the City Council and sent out under the signature of City Manager Phil Kamlarz.
Among the faults cited by Marks were the university’s failure to provide the kind of specifics that would enable the city to prepare detailed, meaningful comments for consideration during preparation of the environmental impact report.
His concerns included traffic impacts (both during and after construction), the university’s plans to rely on the broad traffic, air quality and other analyses in the LRDP rather than site-specific project examinations, the wisdom of new construction directly over the Hayward Fault, and impacts on officially recognized landmarks (including two buildings slated for demolition).
Marks also argued that the EIR should be expanded to include Bowles Hall, a landmarked residential hall immediately north of Maxwell Family Field, that is one of two possible sites the business school is considering to house a non-credit program for business executives.
The project, which is slated to begin construction in late fall, will no doubt continue to yield headlines in the new year.
The university continues to move forward on two major projects planned for downtown Berkeley, a museum complex and a high-rise hotel to be built by a private developer on land the university already owns—part of a larger bloc of land between Oxford Street and Shattuck Avenue stretching from Center Street to University Avenue.
While the university’s intention to develop the land is old news—negotiations with hoteliers have been going on for more than two years—the project took a major step forward in November when the school issued a call for a project design architect for the first of the museums and the new home for the Pacific Film Archive (PFA).
As currently planned, the project would begin in May 2009, with the demolition of the landmark University Press Building at the southwest corner of Oxford and Center streets, along with the parking structure immediately to the north at the corner of Oxford and Allston Way.
In their place would rise a structure that would house 35,000 square feet of gallery space for the UC Berkeley Art Museum and 11,000 square feet of theater/classroom space for the PFA and addition space for the film archive library.
The new building would also include classrooms, staff offices, collection maintenance facilities, a retail bookstore, a restaurant and rooftop areas for public events.
The Berkeley Landmarks Preservation Commission landmarked three buildings on the larger UC parcel in June 2004 after the university’s announcement of its intent to develop the property.
Only one of the structures is within the bounds of the initial project area, the University Press Building, a 1939 structure where the original United Nations Charter was printed in 1945 for the signatures of delegates at the founding meeting in San Francisco. The landmark designations won’t stop development on the site, but CEQA requires that the university spell out its justifications for demolition. ?