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LPC Blasts UC Stadium-Area EIR, Adds Two Landmarks

By Richard Brenneman
Tuesday July 11, 2006

Berkeley gained a pair of new landmarks Thursday during a meeting of the Landmarks Preservation Commission (LPC) dominated by projects planned on the UC Berkeley campus. 

But the only move to landmark a building on university land—the Bevatron building at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory—deadlocked when neither proponents nor opponents of the move could muster the five votes needed for a decision. 

The LPC rejected a proposal to amend one key provision of the new Landmarks Preservation Ordinance that will come before the City Council tonight (Tuesday), while recommending other changes. 

Commissioners also learned that a Southern California developer plans a seven-residence luxury development on the grounds of the landmarked Spring Estate at 1960 San Antonio Road. The mansion would be refurbished, but another landmarked structure would be demolished. 


Landmark ordinance 

Proposed by Mayor Tom Bates and Councilmember Laurie Capitelli, the revised ordinance limits some of the commission’s current powers and adds a new procedure that would impose a two-year ban on landmarking if commissioners and the public fail to act during a 90-day window. 

The revised ordinance is the first item on the council’s action agenda and should draw a large public turnout, pitting a large number of preservationists against developers and infill development proponents.  

Commissioner Carrie Olson tried to remove language from the section describing the Request for Determination (RFD) process.  

In that process, the owner hires a professional architectural consultant from a list approved by the LPC. The expert prepares an opinion on the landmark worthiness of the property, which then goes to the LPC. 

If the LPC doesn’t start the landmarking process in 60 days, the public has 90 days to petition for the commission to review the property to determine landmark status. If no action is taken within that time frame, the property then enters a two-year “safe harbor,” exempt from landmarking.  

What concerns preservationists is that the RFD can be sought where there are no announced plans for development, and the owner can then turn around and file an application the moment the 90-day period lapses. 

A week earlier, foes of the Bates ordinance had argued that neighbors often  

didn’t become aware of the importance of structures until they learned that someone wanted to tear them down. 

But it was efforts to preserve buildings on sites where developments had been proposed that had led to the RFD provision. The City Council has repeatedly overturned LPC landmarking decisions for project sites, and developers have complained repeatedly of the costs inflicted by landmarking-caused delays. 

Olson wanted to change language whereby the LPC review of an RFD is called a determination of the “merit” of the property. 

She wanted the word “merit” struck because she said it implied a more thorough review than the LPC would be able to give. 

While Olson’s change failed, a solid majority voted to support language changes drafted by retired planner John English to correct ambiguities, errors and inconsistencies in the city staff’s ordinance draft. 


University projects 

While only four commissioners voted to landmark the Bevatron building, which houses the particle accelerator that led to research that garnered physicists four Nobel Prizes, one—architect Gary Parsons—had been converted from a foe to a fan. 

He was joined in his vote by Jill Korte, Carrie Olson and Lesley Emmington. 

A fifth commissioner, Chair Robert Johnson, abstained, a change of heart from an earlier position of opposition. 

Realtor/developer Miriam Ng, one of the LPC’s two newest members, voted no, joined by Fran Packard and architect Steven Winkel. The other new member, architect Burton Edwards, left early due to illness. 

An even larger issue than the massive Bevatron building is the university’s plans for the landmarked Memorial Stadium and its surroundings, where UC Berkeley plans a quarter-billion-dollar expansion program that will include three large new structures and a major stadium renovation. 

Commissioners offered their comments on the draft environmental impact report the university has offered on the project—a document that both LPC members and city staff have criticized as severely deficient. 

“The university has not been very consistent with their own reports,” said LPC Chair Robert Johnson, one of three commissioners who went over the draft in a meeting with city Planning Manager Mark Rhoades. 

“We raised a lot of questions about (impacts on) historic structures,” Johnson said, and the group also agreed that no development should take place above the stadium’s historic rim. 

The stadium sits directly atop the Hayward Fault, ranked by federal geologists as the Bay Area seismic hot zone most likely to rupture in the next quarter century. 

Another structure, the 158,800-square-foot Student Athlete High Performance Center, will be built against the stadium’s west wall, and a 911-space parking lot, mostly underground, is to be built next to the fault to the northwest of the stadium.  

The final structure in the project is a 186,000-square-foot building that will unite office and conference areas for Boalt Hall Law School and the Haas School of Business. It will be built across Piedmont Avenue/Gayley Road from the stadium. 

Olson said the draft EIR simply failed to address the project’s impacts on Piedmont Avenue, a landmarked streetscape, the stadium and surrounding landscape and three landmark houses on Piedmont west of the stadium. 

“What they’re doing is just demolishing all historic resources in that corner of the campus or at the least creating significant impacts,” said Olson. 

Commissioner Steven Winkel faulted the document for failing to offer real alternatives to the projects and presenting instead “straw dog alternatives they know are infeasible.” 

“The graphics we saw and the documents presented are full of sins of omission,” said Parsons, noting that renderings of the stadium shown the commission failed to include the above-the-rim press and luxury sky boxes that will add 50 percent to the western wall. 

“A year ago much more detailed plans were shown to fund-raisers,” Johnson said. 

The commission voted 7-0-1 to submit Olson’s dense, singled-spaced, small-type critique. Ng abstained. 


New, old landmarks 

Commissioners voted to create two new landmarks. One was the Bolfing’s Elmwood Hardware store building 2947-93 College Ave., built in 1923 and in continuous service as a neighborhood hardware store the last eight decades. 

Owner Tad Laird told commissioners he plans to restore the original exterior and add three living units in a new upper floor. 

The second addition to the landmarks roster is the Hoffman Building at 2988-92 Adeline St., a 1905 commercial structure that was designated a structure of merit. 

Commissioners also heard a report from Glen Jarvis, the architect who has designed an upscale subdivision for the Spring Estate, a 3.32-acre parcel in the North Berkeley Hills dominated by a 12,000-square-foot reconstruction of the palace of an Austrian empress. 

Designed by noted Berkeley architect John Hudson Thomas, the mansion also housed a school for several decades. 

Landmarked in 2000 along with two other buildings on the property at The Arlington and San Antonio Road, the site is now owned by Monument Properties 5, a limited liability corporation controlled by Monterey Park developer John Park.  

In addition to restoring the mansion, the developer plans to add seven new homes averaging 7,600 square feet. 

Bruce Clymer, a San Antonio Avenue Road resident, who lives next to the property, said he and other neighbors were unhappy with plans that he said would “diminish Berkeley.” 

LPC voted to form a subcommittee to monitor the project, including Olson, Packard, Johnson and Parsons.