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Mayor, City Attorney Hail Injunction on Stadium-Area Project

By Riya Bhattacharjee
Tuesday January 30, 2007

Berkeley Mayor Tom Bates and other city officials held a press conference Monday after the Alameda County Superior Court issued an injunction to stop UC Berkeley’s construction of the new Student Athlete High Performance Center (SAHPC) on the Memorial Stadium grounds. 

“The University of California, Berkeley, needs to recognize the danger they are putting people into and retrofit the Memorial Stadium immediately,” Bates said. 

Judge Barbara Miller granted the request of petitioners City of Berkeley, the Panoramic Area Association and the California Oaks Foundation that had sued to stop the project on the grounds that the petitioners had made a “strong showing of likelihood of success on their claims under the Alquist Priolo Earthquake Fault Zoning Act and the California Environmental Quality Act to justify issuance of a preliminary injunction pending resolution of those claims at trial.” 

Berkeley City Attorney Manuela Alburquerque said safety concerns had been the strongest aspect of the case. 

“The injunction struck an important blow for public safety by stopping this ill-conceived and poorly studied project,” Alburquerque said at the press conference. “We hope the judge’s finding that the city had made a strong showing that it would win its significant legal claims will cause the University to reconsider its approach to these projects.” 

The city’s suit, filed on Dec. 19, charged that the “university ignored state law requirements concerning building or expanding structures located on earthquake faults, and failed to consider the serious threats to public health and safety that would result if the west wall of the stadium, under which the SAHPC is to be built, collapsed in an earthquake.” 

According to the city, the lives of the people working or attending events at the facilities would be endangered by the collapse. 

“There is no reason why the university cannot comply with safety concerns and put the new facility in a seismically safe area,” Alburquerque said, adding that it could take anywhere from three to months for a hearing. 

The city had also stated that in the event of a disaster, the neighboring Panoramic Area residents’ egress would be cut off, severely straining the city’s emergency response workers who would have to deal with the collapse instead of attending to the disaster-related needs of citizens impacted by an earthquake. 

Bates told reporters that he hoped the university would not go ahead with the trial but would pause to take a careful look at its approach to these projects and comply with the law. Asked if the city was willing to settle with UC, Bates said he was open to discussion. 

“If the garage is off the charts, the sports facility is relocated and the stadium is retrofitted, then I am open to negotiations,” he said. “But it’s not just my call. The City Council and members of the community are also involved in this.” 

The mayor also said that although the City of Berkeley and the university had locked horns on the stadium issue, the city would continue to work with the university on other important issues, such as the Downtown Plan. 

“Our relationship is a bit strained because of this, but I would be shocked if they turned a cold shoulder to us. I hope they get what they want but not in a place that is seismically unsafe. At the end of the day I do care about Cal and its athletics,” said Bates, a UC Berkeley alumnus.  

Bates added that the city had suggested several viable locations for the SAHPC, which the university had dismissed.  

He vociferously expressed his disapproval of the 900-plus parking space garage that had been proposed to be built on the sports field.  

“The garage has to be scrapped and relocated,” Bates said. “We need to get people out of their cars. UC needs to hand out bus and BART passes to their employees. If we don’t do something about pollution and global warming right now it’s going to kill all of us.” 

The suit had also charged that the university ignored provisions of the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) by: 

• Describing the proposed projects in such vague terms as to make an adequate study of their consequences impossible. 

• Illegally piecemealing its approval of connected projects to avoid any meaningful assessments of their cumulative environmental consequences. 

• Releasing an important seismic study only after the draft of the environmental impact report had been issued and commented upon, thereby preventing the public from a meaningful opportunity to comment on its inadequacy. 

• Ignoring the comments of state and federal seismic experts that the university’s seismic study was inadequate. 

• In general, rationalizing a pre-ordained decision to build these projects, rather than conducting a good faith and careful environmental assessment of the effects of the projects, including whether the university’s legitimate goals could be obtained in a manner more respectful of public safety and the avoidance of adverse effects on the environment, as state law requires.  

The university had claimed that an injunction would expose “75 of its staff housed at the CMS to seismic dangers,” but the city maintained that these staff had been moved into the CMS by UC in the 1980s and ‘90s “when it knew full well that CMS was dangerous.” 

“UC has not moved their staff elsewhere even though it could have done so,” Alburquerque said. “It admitted in court that no funds had been allocated for seismic safety to protect these staff but had required the staff to raise their own funds for this project, claiming that sports was ‘ancillary’ to the university’s mission. It also admitted that it had not tried to raise funds to make CMS safe because only a new SAHPC was attractive enough to draw private funds.”