City Planners to Review LBNL Long Range Growth Plans

By Richard Brenneman
Tuesday February 20, 2007

Planning commissioners last week heard Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory’s (LBNL) plans for long-range growth and amended the city’s controversial soft-story ordinance. 

During the meeting that saw the ouster of Chair Helen Burke on a 5-4 vote, members voted 8-1 to approve staff recommendations for the soft story ordinance, which mandates engineering reports for earthquake-vulnerable multi-unit housing. 

The changes will make it easier and cheaper for owners to get the needed city permits to retrofit their buildings. 

James Krupnick, LBNL project manager for the institution’s Long Range Development Plan 2025, said construction plans call for 980,000 square feet of new construction as well as demolition of 320,000 square feet of existing buildings—a net increase of 660,000 square feet. 

Plans also call for the addition of 375 parking spaces. 

“Three programs are driving the new building,” Krupnick said, with one, the Helios Project, funded from the $500 million grant recently announced by BP, the former British Petroleum. 

That project is designed to turn engineered super-grasses into ethanol with the help of engineered bacteria derived from the microbes that inhabit the digestive tracks of termites.  

A second project, the Advanced Light Source, currently serves 2,000 users annually, including Stanford University’s Roger D. Kornberg who used the facility for the research that won him the 2006 Nobel Prize in Chemistry.  

The third project, the Computational Research and Theory Building, will house the university’s supercomputer, now located in Oakland. Projects include research on global warming, the design of new levies for the Gulf Coast and the development of more efficient internal combustion engines. 

City commissions will get their chance to comment on the project’s Draft Environmental Impact Report on March 14. That session, which will be held in the South Berkeley Senior Center starting at 6 p.m., will include members of the Planning, Transportation, Landmarks Preservation and Community Health commissions—perhaps a record for the largest number of city bodies to meet simultaneously in the same place. 

Commissioners also voted to adopt recommendations of the planning staff for minor alterations to the city’s soft story ordinance, which requires owners of affected rental housing to obtain engineering reports that would address seismic weaknesses in their buildings along with possible fixes. 

Soft story structures were identified as a major problem in California following the 1994 Northridge earthquake, which resulted in deaths and serious injuries in the collapse of apartment buildings constructed over ground floor parking. 

The city ordinance requires only reports at this point, though the eventual goal is to mandate repairs for all soft story structures housing five or more residential units. 

The city has identified 649 structures, all built before the 1997 building code update of seismic standards. 

The commission approved amendments easing restrictions on permits allowing for yard setbacks, height restrictions, the amount of lot area a building can occupy, reduction in parking spaces and design review when changes are required to meet seismic safety standards. 

Gene Poschman cast the sole dissenting vote. Commissioners voted unanimously to adopt the second ordinance brought before them, a measure clarifying the legal definition of a dormer and clarifying calculations used to determine the average height of a building.