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City, University Set for Another Legal Showdown

By Richard Brenneman
Tuesday September 26, 2006

Berkeley officials are planning another lawsuit against UC Berkeley’s development plans—this time challenging the quarter-billion-dollar complex planned for the Memorial Stadium area. 

City councilmembers will meet behind closed doors with representatives of the city attorney’s office to discuss the a legal challenge to what the university has called the Southeast Campus Integrated Projects—or SCIP for short.  

“Because it’s a legal issue, we can’t talk a lot until after meeting,” said Cisco DeVries, chief of staff to Mayor Tom Bates. “But I think it’s pretty clear: If the city wants to reserve its rights to challenge the projects, it needs to move fairly early to bring the issues into the open.” 

The council will consider the issue when its closed session begins at 5 p.m. today (Tuesday) in the 6th floor conference room at City Hall, 2180 Milvia St. 

UC Berkeley Director of Community Relations Irene Hegarty said the final environmental impact report (EIR) on the projects will be released at least 10 days before the Nov. 15-16 meeting of the UC Board of Regents, at which the document will be presented for certification. 

Once the EIR is certified, Hegarty said, the city has 30 days to file a challenge. “That’s when the city would make its decision whether or not to sue,” she said. 


Grounds for action 

According to the agenda, grounds for legal action could include violations of the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA), the Alquist-Priolo Act—which governs building on sites near seismic faults—“and other laws.”  

Planning Director Dan Marks has taken the lead in the city’s criticism of the university’s handling of the project’s state-mandated environmental review, carried out under the provisions of CEQA. 

In two blistering letters, one written as the university was gathering comments to be addressed in preparing an EIR on the project and the second after the draft EIR had been submitted, Marks laid into the university. 

Marks sent the first letter last December, totaling 19 pages, to Jennifer Lawrence (now McDougall), the university’s Principal Planner for Capital Projects/Facilities Services. 

His target was the Notice of Preparation (NOP) issued by the university a month earlier, a document which he said “offers vague descriptions of the projects the EIR will evaluate and their potential environmental impacts, raising serious questions about the adequacy of the assessment to follow.” 

Because the NOP lacked “even conceptual plans for the proposed projects, is unclear about the key aspects of several of the projects, and provides little or no detail as to the specific scope of the development,” and failed to supply adequate details typically supplied in an NOP, preparing comments was extremely difficult. 

He then cited a long list of specific failings covering a broad range of issues, ranging from construction and traffic impacts to effects that redound through nearby neighborhoods. 

When the university released the draft EIR in July, Marks fired back with a 54-page critique, describing a university so eager to raise funds that it was willing to ignore serious risks to the lives of students, parents and others who attend events in a stadium directly located atop a major seismic fault. 

Charging that the university displayed “a dismissive attitude toward the City of Berkeley and its citizens,” Marks said the EIR was a flawed document, filled with factual errors. 

“It appears that the university has prepared a DEIR that seeks to justify actions it had already determined to take before the DEIR was prepared, without sufficient (regard to) environmental effects or alternatives,” Marks wrote. 

Hegarty said the final EIR will highlight changes made from the draft document and include a numbered list of responses to the criticisms and questions raised about the draft. 


Massive project 

The addition of more than 300,000 square feet of classroom, office and athletic training space, plus a 325-000-square foot multi-level underground parking lot, pose major environmental impacts both on and off campus during and after construction, Marks charged. 

Of particular concern is the fact that Memorial Stadium sits directly astride the Hayward Fault, the fissure federal geologists declare is the most likely to produce a major temblor during the immediate decades ahead. 

Another structure which could be at issue is the 132,500-square-foot Student Athlete High Performance Center, projected as a heavily used facility immediately adjacent to the stadium’s western wall. 

The underground lot is directly adjacent to the fault, and both structures could be subject to the provisions of the Alquist-Priolo Special Studies Zone Act. 

That law was enacted in 1972, 13 months after a devastating earthquake that caused 65 deaths and leveled a Veterans Administration hospital in the San Fernando Valley in Los Angeles County. 

The law bans developments and structures that are occupied more than 2,000 hours a year within 50 feet of active faults. 

Another issue raised by Marks is the failure of the document and the SCIP project to include another major project tentatively planned immediately north of the project zone. 

Also missing from the DEIR were the potential cumulative impacts from the planned demolition of the Bevatron at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory—a project that could burden city streets with debris-laden trucks at the same time heavy truck traffic is being generated by the SCIP projects. 


Earlier suit  

If a suit is filed, it would be the city’s second in recent years challenging university development plans. 

The first suit, filed in February 2005, challenged the university’s Long Range Development Plan outlining proposed new projects through the year 2020. 

A controversial settlement, reached three months later, produced yet other lawsuits, including one still pending that was filed by Daily Planet Arts and Calendar Editor Anne Wagley and other residents.