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UC Regents Ready to Vote on Stadium Plan

By Richard Brenneman
Friday December 01, 2006

University of California Regents are expected to approve Tuesday an environmental document authorizing 451,000 square feet of new construction at and around UC Berkeley’s Memorial Stadium. 

The Regents are scheduled to adopt plans for a controversial high tech athletic training center adjacent to the landmarked stadium. 

“They will be meeting to vote to certify the EIR (environmental impact report) and approve the design,” said UC spokesperson Jennifer Ward.  

Word of the meeting came two days after the stadium itself was named to the National Register of Historic Places, a federal listing maintained by the National Parks Service. 

But the newest honor accorded the building—which was also recently designated a City of Berkeley landmark—affords no new leverage for opponents of UC Berkeley’s massive expansion plans in the area, say state and local officials. 

“It doesn’t change much,” said Berkeley Planning and Development Director Dan Marks, who is spearheading the city’s opposition to the scope of the projects outlined in the Southeast Campus Integrated Projects (SCIP) plan. 

Stephen Miksell, California’s Deputy State Historic Preservation Officer, agreed. 

“The most protections that would be afford would be through the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA), and the university acknowledged the stadium’s historic properties in their CEQA documents,” he said. 

Michael Kelly of the Panoramic Hill Association (PHA), which along with the city is preparing to file a lawsuit if the EIR is approved, said one of the most significant aspects of the federal listing is its inclusion of a threatened oak grove at the training center site. 

CEQA mandated the preparation of the EIR which the regents’ Grounds and Building Committee is expected to approve Tuesday, Ward said.  

That document includes not just the Student Athlete High Performance, but a complex of projects and massive new construction at and near the stadium. 

The meeting will take place over the phone at 4:30 p.m. Tuesday, and area residents may attend electronically by appearing at the UC San Francisco Mission Bay campus Community Center, 1675 Owens St., San Francisco. 

Marks said a city representative would attend. 

Committee approval of the EIR guarantees that one and possibly two lawsuits will be filed in the following 30 days, the statutory period for filing legal challenges once an EIR is approved. 

City Councilmembers voted Nov. 14 to sue if the EIR was approved, and the PHA, representing neighbors who live on the hillside above the stadium, has also retained an attorney. 

Kelly said the association has a crucial role to play in litigation because the area was recently designated a National Historic District because it includes many historic dwellings designed by renowned architects, including Julia Morgan, Bernard Maybeck, Ernest Coxhead, John Hudson Thomas and William Wurster. 

He said representatives of other neighborhood groups are planning to attend, along with many advocates who oppose destruction of the stand of trees at the training center site, which include coast live oaks. 

The National Register application was drafted by John English, a retired planner who also drafted the city landmark nomination. Both include the oak grove. 

Paul Lusignan, the National Register historian responsible for listings in the Western U.S., said the listing became official Monday. 

“It’s a very good example of an early 20th Century large-scale athletic stadium, one of the few remaining examples in the state and in the country,” he said. “It has great architectural and engineering qualities,” he said. 

One of the most controversial elements in the EIR slated for approval Tuesday is a plan to build additional rows of seats above the stadiums eastern rim and to add a press deck and a row of luxury sky boxes above the western rim. 

Proof that historic designations don’t bar similar additions comes from two well-known stadiums where even more radical vertical additions have been authorized—Soldier Field in Chicago and Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum. 

Both stadiums have been accorded the highest national historic designation, that of one of the fewer than 2,500 National Landmarks. By contrast, there are more than 79,000 entries on the National Register. 

Berkeley has two federal landmarks—the First Church of Christ, Scientist and Room 307 of Gilman Hall on the UC Berkeley campus—compared to 57 National Register listings, some including multiple buildings. The room was named because within those walls in 1941 the element Plutonium was first identified, leading directly to the first nuclear weapon ever detonated. 

Any objection from a property owner blocks a listing under National Parks Service rules, but UC officials didn’t act. 

The 142,000-square-foot training center and office complex the regents are expected to approve Tuesday is four stories tall in places, but all beneath the base level of the landmark stadium building.  

All of the estimated $112 million in construction costs would be paid from corporate and private donations and grants. Regents have already approved the project budget and authorized using up to $12 million in standby financing if needed during fund-raising. 

Other projects included in the EIR raise the total construction costs to over $300 billion, and include a nearby 912-car underground parking lot, an even larger new building joining functions of the UC Berkeley law and business schools and streetscape changes for Piedmont Avenue/Gayley Road—itself a city landmark. 

UC Berkeley officials told the regents earlier this month that approval was essential by January at the latest so preliminary excavations wouldn’t interfere with the coming fall football season. 

City officials and neighbors have argued that impacts of the projects, along with the heavy traffic they would generate both during and after construction, would place an intolerable burden on already heavily trafficked streets and the city’s overburdened infrastructure.