UC Regents will be asked this month to approve the first of a major series of projects at Berkeley’s Southeast Campus.
According to the environmental impact report for all the southeast campus projects the regents will be asked to greenlight a 132,500-square-foot 365-days-a-year strength conditioning and sports medicine high performance center to be constructed along the western base of Memorial Stadium.
That structure is just the first of a series of major projects that will change the face of the campus around the stadium and will add height and lights to the stadium.
Disgruntled Berkeleyans looking for dirt on the university will find it by the thousands of truckloads in an environmental impact report (EIR) released this week by the school. The document, almost a truckload in itself, examines the impacts of all the projects while largely dismissing worries of city officials and other critics.
The dirt in question is literal. Excavation of a new 911-space, largely underground parking structure near Memorial Stadium will cause 20,000 truck trips down city streets over a four-month period—averaging 167 trips a day, seven days a week.
That parade of heavily laden trucks is a major concern to city officials and neighbors, along with other traffic impacts that would result from projects drawing ever more people to the area.
And the 20,000-trip figure represents just the traffic generated by the disposition of earth from the garage, which in turn is just one of many new building efforts planned by UC Berkeley in the years ahead, according to the EIR.
The total doesn’t include simultaneous trips from other campus projects taking place nearby or elsewhere on the campus. Nor does it include the additional daily trips that would come from installing new academic facilities, a major parking lot and the training facility that will draw athletes from around the campus, as well as a week’s worth of new near-capacity events at Memorial Stadium.
Those problems would add further congestion to already crowded neighborhood streets, slow emergency response times, especially during high-attendance events, and necessitate installation of new traffic signals, critics said.
Concerns about traffic problems formed just a small part of the criticism leveled at the university’s plans by the city and neighborhood and other advocacy groups.
Another major concern repeatedly stressed is the Hayward Fault, which runs directly beneath the stadium and immediately adjacent to the planned garage. See the accompanying story for more on this issue.
But in the end none of the comments or the many petitions deflected the university’s determination to do as they first intended.
SCIP to my U
The EIR released this week focuses on the Southeast Campus Integrated Projects (SCIP), which compromises just one component of the massive building program planned by California’s premier public university in the next 14 years.
Major projects included in the SCIP in addition to the training center include:
• A retrofit to the landmark Memorial Stadium, which sits directly astride the Bay Area fault federal scientists say is the most likely to rupture in the decades ahead.
• A $140 million to $160 million stadium retrofit and upgrade, including luxury sky boxes and a press gallery to be built above the structure’s western rim.
• The 911-space parking structure northwest of the stadium.
• A 186,000-square-foot “connection building” that would join offices and functions of the university’s law and business schools.
All funds for the projects, estimated to cost more than a quarter-billion dollars, are to be raised from private sources.
The massive report makes no substantial changes from the original draft document that attracted stinging criticism from city officials and has raised the threat of yet another city lawsuit against the university.
“The writer’s comment is noted” is a phrase that runs like a mantra throughout the university’s official responses to criticisms, questions and comments submitted from organizations—both official and private—and from citizens ranging from preservationists to a multinational collection of players of pick-up soccer games.
City Planning and Development Director Dan Marks wrote the City Council’s response, an acerbic 58-page broadside sent to UC Berkeley Chancellor Robert Birgeneau in response to the draft EIR. He said city staff would be busy examining the several-thousand-page document released Tuesday in order to prepare a response in time for the UC Regents meeting at UCLA on Nov. 15-16.
The regents are expected to vote approval of the EIR and SCIP buildings at that session.
“I can’t comment on the document, and I won’t be able to until I have had the time to thoroughly read it and prepare our response. We want to have something ready before the regents meet,” he said.
The EIR—prepared by Berkeley consulting firm Design Community & Environment (DCE)—largely dismisses criticisms, many because they refer to items cited in a previously approved EIR prepared for the 2020 Long Range Development Plan (LRDP), which was the subject of a city lawsuit that was settled in a controversial agreement that subsequently became the subject of a citizen lawsuit.
That EIR was also prepared by DCE.
While the city charged that the draft SCIP EIR only set up the legally required project alternatives as “straw-men,” designed to be easily dismissed so that the university could do what it intended, the EIR dismisses the allegation, declaring that the regents have yet to review the alternatives, which “may yet be selected.”
Among the critics who filed written reports were:
• The Panoramic Hill Association,
• Friends of Piedmont Way, which expressed concerns over proposed changes to the landmarked streetscape designed by Frederick Law Olmstead.
• The Berkeley Architectural Heritage Association, which expressed concern about changes to the recently landmarked stadium, Piedmont Way and other nearby historic and landmark structures and their grounds.
• Berkeleyans for a Livable University Environment.
• The Willard Neighborhood Association.
• The Claremont-Elmwood Neighborhood Association.
The final EIR acknowledges that the stadium expansion “would cause a significant adverse change in the historical significance” of the stadium, but says the new plan represents a solution of extraordinary quality meriting departure” from the campus’s own guidelines and the historical character of the stadium.
The document is available on the Internet at www.cp.berkeley.edu/SCIP/EIR.html
Another group of critics comes from the habitués of Tightwad Hill, the UC Berkeley Bears fans who hike up Strawberry Canyon to plant themselves on the pleasant hillside slope that offers panoramic—and free—views of home football games.
Don Sicular launched a website to protest the university’s plans for an 18-row expansion of the stadium’s eastern rim that would cut off views from the best hillside turf. The site, which features petition forms, is at www.tightwadhill.org.
Sicular said the free seating tradition dates back to the first Cal game in the stadium played against Stanford on Nov. 24, 1923.
Other critics have focused on the press box and luxury sky boxes for big bucks corporate and private donors planned on the western rim, as well as the eastern seats, charging they detract from the stadium’s internationally renowned esthetics.