Massive New UC Lab to Rise at Downtown’s Edge

By Richard Brenneman
Friday July 28, 2006

UC Berkeley officials unveiled a scale model of their 200,000-square-foot, replacement for Warren Hall—a $160 million structure that that would rise more than 100 feet near the intersection of Oxford Street and Berkeley Way. 

While the existing 80,000-square-foot building houses the university’s School of Public Health, the new structure will house molecular biology labs focusing on infectious diseases, degenerative diseases of the nervous system and cancer biology. 

“We hope to have a stem cell component, too,” said Kerry O’Banion, a principal planner in the university’s Capital Projects division’s office of Physical and Environmental Planning. 

The building will also house a magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) facility for use in human experiments that will be conducted there, O’Banion said. 

While billed to the city as the Warren Hall replacement, university planning documents refer to the facility as the Li Ka-Shing Center for Biomedical and Health Sciences, named after the philanthropist who gave the university a $40 million grant to fund the project a year ago. 

A Hong Kong real estate developer, cell phone service provider and container port magnate, Ka-Shing was named the world’s 10th richest person for 2006 by Forbes magazine with an estimated net worth of $18.8 billion. 

O’Banion said the public health school will move to the site of the old state Department of Health Services building further west on Berkeley Way, which the university is now in the process of acquiring. 

Planning Commissioner Gene Poschman noted that the university’s plans include far less parking that the two spaces per thousand sqaure feet required by the city. 

“The university doesn’t stick to a strict building-to-parking ration,” said O’Banion, adding that the university was looking at “a couple of sites downtown” to build additional spaces. 

After looking over the elaborately constructed, laser-cut wooden replica, Poschman added, “I’ve never seen a scale model I didn’t like, and I’ve never seen a building I like.” 

Not that it mattered. 

The university was showing the building to the city as a courtesy, and because of the settlement of a lawsuit filed over the university’s plans for the next 14 years. In the end, it is the gown, not town, with the final say over the structure’s appearance, use and parking spaces. 


Telegraph condos 

Commissioners voted unanimously to set a Sept. 13 public hearing on adopting zoning changes the city hopes will encourage business on Telegraph Avenue—though Poschman said that the minor changes would probably have little effect. 

The proposals would reduce the legal and financial hurdles needed both to subdivide existing commercial space and unite previously subdivided spaces. Also eased would be the requirements to switch business types within spaces. 

Another proposal would allow city staff more discretion in easing the now-strict quota system limiting the nature and number of business types on the ailing avenue, where commercial vacancy rates have passed 12 percent, said Planning Manager Mark Rhoades. 

Commissioners also voted unanimous approval of a five-unit condominium project at 1501 Oxford St. after a hearing with no speakers and virtually no discussion.