Public Comment

Commentary: John Galen Howard Was Right

By Helen Burke
Tuesday June 27, 2006

Regarding UCB’s draft enviornmental impact report (DEIR) for the Southeast Campus Integrated Projects (SCIP), which include retrofitting Memorial stadium, a new Student Athlete High Performance Center (SAHPC), new parking garage, and other improvements, John Galen Howard was right.  

Back in the 1920s when the university first proposed the stadium, Campus Architect John Galen Howard opposed building the stadium in its current location, primarily because it was over the Hayward Fault. From Berkeley historians and preservationists, we can piece together other concerns of the day.  

First and foremost, the Hayward Fault bisects the Memorial Stadium, and the proposed 158,000-square-foot SAHPC adjacent to the stadium is within the Alquist-Priolo Fault Hazard Zone of the fault as is the proposed 911-car parking garage. It is now known that this fault is in one of the most dangerous locations in CA with a 27 percent probability of a 6.7 quake causing significant damage to persons and property by 2032. The university proposes to more than double the number of capacity events which would mean more people—both those attending events and those living in adjacent neighborhoods—would be exposed to greater risk in the event of a major earthquake. The DEIR downplays the seriousness of this increased risk and does not look at less risky alternatives.  

Second, access to the stadium and other buildings is through already congested narrow streets designed almost a century ago to serve a primarily residential area. Access remains difficult and would be made worse by the additional parking facility and more events. There is only one egress and one ingress to the new 911-car parking structure off Centennial Drive where it meets Gayley Road. Gridlock would be sure to ensue before and after a football game! This impact is not adequately covered by the DEIR nor is it fully mitigated.  

Third, nature lovers, including early Sierra Club leaders and professors, used to meet frequently in the area which became the stadium site to hike up Strawberry Canyon along Strawberry Creek, passing a beautiful waterfall (now culverted). This group opposed the stadium plan because they wanted to preserve a beautiful natural area. The university now plans to destroy 100 live oaks, including three or four rare heritage oaks, in the same area in order to build the student athletic center. One wonders if it would be possible to save these majestic, historical and long-lived trees or to build around them, preserving them in place. This latter option is not addressed in the DEIR.  

Fourth, residents of Panoramic Hill area were concerned about access to that area in case of fire or other emergencies since there was only one narrow road entering and leaving the area. There continues to be only one narrow road into and out of the area, Panoramic Way, which begins very close to the stadium and would very likely be adversely impacted by stadium and student athletic facility construction activity. The building of these new structures would exacerbate an already dangerous situation and increase risk to the area. An emergency access route is needed in case of fire or other disaster. The DEIR identifies the issue but does not suggest adequate mitigation.  

Given the significance of these concerns and requirements of CEQA, the university needs to look carefully at alternatives. One mentioned in the DEIR is to relocate the stadium and possibly the student athletic facility to Golden Gate Fields on the Albany waterfront. However, that alternative would conflict with plans for completing the Eastshore State Park. A plan for protecting the waterfront area is currently the subject of an initiative campaign in Albany.  

Another alternative the university might want to look at is using the Oakland Coliseum for football games. Although located in another city, one has only to remember that UCLA’s football team plays some 20 miles away in Pasadena to see it is possible to play football games outside of Berkeley. This alternative should at least be looked at in the DEIR and should include an analysis of local and regional traffic impacts.  

Furthermore, the university should consider: doing a minimal seismic retrofit of the stadium, thereby preserving its historical value; maintaining the current number of games per year; and building the student athletic facility in a safer, more easily accessible location.  

Another parking alternative the DEIR should consider is building several satellite parking structures in the downtown area, e.g. the Department of Health Services building, UC Extension Building and Tang parking lot, rather than centralizing and concentrating parking in one building near the stadium, which includes 411 new parking spaces. Dispersing parking in this way might lessen the impact of additional parking in the Gayley Road area and surrounding neighborhoods. What is needed is an overall analysis of the impact of campus parking on Berkeley streets, including the new Underhill parking structure currently under construction.  

Let’s hope the university will listen this time to John Galen Howard.  


Helen Burke is a Berkeley resident.