Public Comment

Commentary: UC Stadium Lawsuit Must Move Forward Without Secret Deals

By Hank Gehman
Friday December 01, 2006

The University of California’s SCIP project—the new stadium, training center, business conference center, 911 car parking garage and the Boalt Hall hotel project, all on the Hayward fault zone—is a serious and permanent threat to the safety and livability of the whole city. The city has developed a very strong lawsuit to stop this massive development. To defend itself, Berkeley has no alternative but to follow through with this lawsuit. Secret negotiations like were done over the LRDP to get a few concessions in exchange for dropping that suit would be wrong on all counts. This suit is the only chance to defend the city now and for the next twenty years. 

Alquist-Priolo, which bans state development on earthquake faults is a fundamental law for California. Until now the wisdom of the law has been self-evident and the state has avoided building on fault zones. Suddenly, UC is saying that the law is really only a “technicality” and should not stand in the way of the university concentrating more than a million persons a year on the fault. Beyond all of these lives put at risk, the city will be burdened with the liability of this additional risk and the public safety of all of Berkeley will be compromised. When (not if!) the earthquake happens, there will be serious damage to all of Berkeley. But surely, with the thousands of additional people brought to the fault, the loss of life and injury at the stadium vicinity will be even worse. Inevitably, police and fire services will be diverted from the rest of Berkeley and sent to the stadium area. Just when we need our police and firemen the most, they won’t be available to the rest of us. 

The university intends to make the new stadium a major entertainment venue. Along with moving the football games to night-time starts, there will be seven “Paul McCartney” scale concerts and an unlimited number of events with less than 10,000 spectators. The city will be required to ban parking on the arteries leading to the stadium and ban all parking in the adjoining neighborhoods. These events could happen every weekend for half a year. Again, over one million spectators a year! There will be traffic gridlock, partying with all the underage drinking and the subsequent misery for the residents along with the hits on property values. The garage will bring hundreds of additional cars daily along with the 1,000 cars coming to the new Underhill parking facility. The traffic impacts will spread throughout Berkeley. 

The construction impacts will be massive, citywide and will last 10 years. The city will have almost no control over these construction impacts. For example, just for the excavation of the parking garage, there will be 20,000 trips of double-trailer semi trucks seven days a week clogging the roads of Berkeley. These problems will be compounded when UC’s downtown projects overlap with SCIP.  

The environmental impact report produced by the university for SCIP is deceptive, deficient and in violation of the law and must be redone. For example, the EIR claims that the training facility that the university wants to start construction on immediately is not a part of the stadium project. In fact, the training facility is the first phase of the foundation for the new stadium. That explains why it is sited along the west wall of the stadium and why it costs $125 million. The university’s assessment of the survivability of the new stadium is doubtful, but the EIR withholds the necessary information. The EIR also tries to hide the real impacts on the grove of live oaks. The EIR refuses to even consider an earthquake retrofit of the stadium without lights, luxury boxes and PSL seating. The Oakland Coliseum is now looking for another tenant and would be an excellent alternative for Cal football. The university needs to seriously consider this alternative. No honest negotiations can occur without an honest EIR. 

The university is trying to pressure the city into a quick negotiated settlement. They have spread the rumor that Jeff Tedford, the Cal football coach, will leave if the training facility is not started this year. That rumor is simply not true. Tedford has never said that he would leave. There is no clock ticking. He has only said that new weight rooms would be helpful to recruit out-of-state players. As it is, the current weight rooms haven’t stopped him from recruiting top talent or building an excellent team. 

Nothing in SCIP is to further the educational mission of UC. This is no more than a large, multifaceted commercial project. The sole driving force for each of these individual projects is the millions of dollars they will return. With the continuing scandals of misappropriation of funds, it is obvious that the system of governance of UC is broken. As long as UC believes that it should “try to get away with as much as possible and disclose as little as possible” (UC President Robert Dynes) the city should not expect to find common ground with UC through negotiations.  

The UC spokeswoman has stated clearly that UC has no interest and has no need to accommodate the needs of Berkeley. Our only leverage is with our lawsuit—which is on very strong legal grounds. Any decision taken by the city concerning the suits should take place in an open and transparent manner. There is no rush! A city that has called for President Bush’s impeachment cannot turn around and thumb its nose at the basic tenants of democracy and make secret deals. And there is no reason for any deals to be made because there is no reason that the citizens of Berkeley should have to sacrifice their sanity, safety, property values and fiscal health so that UC can make millions in profit. 


Hank Gehman is a Berkeley resident.