Why is city staff pushing to overturn landmark status for UC Berkeley’s Memorial Stadium in the final weeks before UC Regents meet to decide the fate of the historic coliseum?
“That’s a good question,” said John English, the retired planner who drafted the application approved by the city’s Landmarks Preservation Commission (LPC).
City Councilmembers will consider overturning the designation at tonight’s meeting, which begins at 7 p.m. in Council Chambers at Old City Hall, 2134 Martin Luther King Jr. Way.
While the memorandum from Planning Manager Mark Rhoades doesn’t call for permanent rejection of the landmark designation, it does call for overturning the version passed by the LPC June 1 until a new version can be drafted.
That would leave the stadium without a formal landmark designation at the very time the University of California Regents are scheduled to vote on a quarter-billion project for redeveloping the stadium and adjacent properties.
Regents are scheduled to meet at UCLA Nov. 15-16, where they are expected to approve the Southeast Campus Integrated Projects. If the council does as Rhoades recommends, regents would be able to act with no designations in place.
English also drafted another, similar application for a national designation, but that application is pending.
The request to overturn the designation came in a July 11 email from UC Berkeley Director of Community Relations Irene Hegarty, sent at 4:11 p.m., less than an hour before the close of the appeal period.
Hegarty charged the city-approved designation “carries forward many misrepresentations” not present in English’s subsequent application for national landmark status.
English said that he met with a city planning staff member in a meeting in which no changes were advocated, but consisting instead of preparation of an account of things which could be changed.
Rhoades’ account, English said, misrepresents the meeting “by making it sound like I’m advocating for the changes.”
If the council overturns the designation and sends it back to the LPC, “it would probably take a couple of months before the commission could act,” said commission Secretary Janet Homrighausen.
“Action would require a public hearing, and it’s now too close to the commission’s Nov. 2 meeting to give the public notice” required before a hearing, she said. “The earliest they could act would be the Dec. 7 meeting.”
With action by the keeper of the National Register of Historic Places some months away, the stadium will not appear as a designated local, state or federal landmark—which English says could potentially pave the way for actions by the regents that might not be possible were a designation in place.
“It’s a gray area,” said Homrighausen. City action would be forestalled because an application was pending, but that might not be binding on another, independent agency, she said.
While the university contends it wants the changes “for scholarly reasons,” English said, he suspects the real reasons might be different and related to the upcoming regents meeting.
“The differences between the two versions are largely subjective,” English said, “and not matters of objective fact.”
Neither federal law nor the Berkeley Landmarks Preservation Ordinance requires the two to read identically, he said.
English said a preferable alternative would be for the council to leave the current designation in place and refer the differences back to the LPC for review and future action.
The university plans a quarter-billion-dollar building project at and around the stadium, including a 132,500-square-foot Student Athlete High Performance Center immediately west of the stadium, installation of a press box and luxury sky boxes above the stadium rim, a 325,000-square-foot multi-level underground parking garage northwest of the stadium and a new 186,000-square-foot building that would join offices and functions of the university’s law and business schools.
The city has already threatened legal action challenging the project’s environmental impact report (EIR) for failing to give adequate consideration of the massive changes the construction and its aftermath could bring to the surrounding city.
Planning Director Dan Marks wrote a blistering 54-page critique of the EIR, which he characterized as fundamentally flawed, and councilmembers voted Sept. 26 to hire an attorney to pursue action.