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City Concerned Over UC Lab, Campus Plans

By Richard Brenneman
Friday March 16, 2007

For the city, it’s both too much and too little—too much building by UC Berkeley and too little consideration of its potentially profound impacts on the surrounding community. 

City Planning and Development Director Dan Marks issued a stark critique to city commissioners and Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (LBNL) officials Wednesday night about the lab’s Long Range Development Plan (LRDP) 2025. 

The occasion was a hearing called for four city commissions on the plan’s draft environmental impact report (DEIR). 

The plan calls for nearly a million square feet of new buildings—which includes one completed structure and one now underway—and up to 500 new parking spaces and 1,000 new employees. 

The biggest concern for the planning director was the combined impact of the two faces of city’s most powerful institution, both under control of a single master. 

“The University of California has prepared two LRDPs for jurisdictions under its control,” said Marks, the Berkeley campus and the lab. “This masks the cumulative impacts and makes the university as a whole responsible for mitigation. 

”There is a fundamental problem with the University of California, which is unable to address those impacts because of the way” the process is carried out, he said. 

Marks did praise lab officials who, “unlike the campus, met with city staff several times over the last few months, listened to our concerns and modified their plans.” 

Unlike the university, which refused city requests, LBNL officials were willing to establish benchmarks for parking which would require preparation of new environmental documents to review once they were surpassed, and agreed to establish a transportation demand management program designed to encouraged the use of mass-transit, ride sharing and other programs designed to reduce traffic. 

“However, it’s still a large development in an almost inaccessible location and it also offers free parking,” which encourages the use of passenger cars. 

The net impact is a 38 percent increase in occupied space and a 28 percent employment growth in an area susceptible to earthquakes and wildland fires. 

“I don’t see the justification yet,” Marks said. “There is more justification needed to put this many people in this location.” 

Further complicating matters is the fact that the two separate LRDPs mask the mixed uses of UC-owned land, with some lab facilities being sited on the university campus, and some campus facilities located at the lab. 

“From the community’s point of view, this is all the University of California, and in impacts on the whole of the community.” 


Who pays? 

With impacts of city water, wastewater, traffic, emergency and other systems, any increases of use will result in impacts that cost the city, and Marks cited last year’s California Supreme Court ruling in City of Marina v. Board of Trustees of the California State University, where the justices held that universities are financially liable for mitigation of the impacts of the new construction. 

While the lab is funded by the U.S. Department of Energy, Marks said that some of the federal millions paid to the university should be passed on to the city to cover the cost of providing services. 

One area where the campus does make concessions to the city is in review of new construction. Marks’s staff can sit in on meetings of the campus Design Review Committee, albeit “rather late in the process,” while the lab doesn’t extend a similar courtesy. 

Marks said he was concerned that the lab site is zoned for building of up to eight floors, although none is planned now that would reach that height.  

Marks said the report also needed to provide more information about toxic materials handling and diesel exhaust emissions, and because the lab is the site of experiments with microscopic nano-particles, he asked that officials comply with the city’s new ordinance which asks for reports on all nano-particle usage. 

More information is needed about the increased runoff that will flow into Strawberry Creek as a result of more impervious surfaces covering the earth, and he asked the lab to address the fact that planned demolitions will involve buildings that may be eligible for the National Register of Historic Places. 

The DEIR also failed to adequately address the impact on city emergency services in the event of a fire or earthquake. “There will be another thousand people there when—notice I didn’t say if—the earthquake comes,” he said, and the impact would be magnified if a temblor strikes when a major event is underway at Memorial Stadium. 

“There’s not enough analysis of consideration of impacts” on the city’s fire department, the primary first responder in a disaster. 

The splitting of the two UC development schemes becomes even more vexing when trying to consider traffic impacts. “The cumulative impact is underestimated and (the DEIR) avoids mitigations of the impacts on the city and we are troubled by that,” he said. Similarly, implementation of a traffic demand management program should be in place before additional parking is built, and not after as the current plan calls for. 

The plan also doesn’t say how the university would pay for increased use of the city’s wastewater system. “Obviously, the cumulative impacts are a big issue for us,” he said. 


Public input 

Nine members of the public added their voices to the critique, starting with Anne Wagley, who is a plaintiff in a pending lawsuit challenging the campus LRDP. Wagley works as the Planet’s arts and calendar editor 

“The cumulative impacts are a critical issue,” she said, adding that for UC to divide them between two LRDPs with separate environmental rules raises the question of violations of the California Environmental Quality Act. 

“I do not think that Berkeley’s infrastructure can handle” the combined impacts of the two million square feet of new construction in the campus LRDP with the 600,000 to one million in the lab’s plan, she said, given its aging culverts, sanitary system and streets. “I can only hope the lab recognizes the tremendous burden they are placing on their host city and pays for it.” 

Tom Kelly was the lone representative of the Community Health Commission to attend, and spoke from the audience to say that his panel said their main concern was the increased greenhouse gasses that would come from bringing more cars sand buildings onto the site. 

Another concern for Kelly was the pending pact between the university, the lab and the former British Petroleum to create a new $500 million research program. 

“We already have a lot of masters in the campus and lab, and if we add BP to the mix, it will make for a very different city he said,” urging that the resulting programs relocate to Richmond, where the university maintains a field station earmarked for a two-million-square-foot corporate/academic research park. 

Janice Thomas, a Panoramic Hill resident, urged the lab to clean up an area of the site designated as a Superfund hazardous waste site, then locate new construction there, rather in the Strawberry Creek Valley. 

“It really shocked me that they are completely ignoring the seismic risk by building here,” said Hank Gehman, who said geological reports indicate that landslides will occur throughout the hills in the event of a major earthquake, trapping lab employees. 

“Would any major corporation or institution site an important or potentially hazardous lab in the Berkeley Hills?” he asked. 

Pamela Shivola passed out a map listing all the known faults within the lab’s perimeter. 


Commissioners speak 

Next up were members of Landmarks Preservation Commission (LPC), with Lesley Emmington leading off with praise for Marks’s report. 

The LPC last week adopted a resolution faulting the EIR for its failure to recognize Strawberry Canyon as a historical resource and the lack of any proposed mitigations or alternative sites. 

Emmington said the canyon and its water supply were the primary reasons the university located at its present site and urged the lab to relocate its planned development. “It doesn’t have to be in Berkeley,” she said. 

Marcy Greenhut, chair of the Transportation Commission and its only representative at the hearing, said her panel’s main concern was that the lab should spell out alternatives forms of transportation. 

Then it came down to the Planning Commission, with Helen Burke proposing the motion which was eventually unanimously adopted with some modification.  

The commission called for: 

• A stronger transportation demand management plan, including an eco-pass program providing for assistant with mass transit fares and the imposition of a charge for parking; 

• Permeable paving surfaces to reduce runoff; 

• Greater detail in plans for storage and handling of hazardous materials; 

• Spelling out alternative locations on UCB property; 

• Greater detail in sections detailing responses to earthquakes and wildland fires; 

• Minimal destruction of the natural environment, and 

• More detail on the impacts on housing and the community.