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UC: No Fault Under New Gym Location

By Richard Brenneman
Friday June 01, 2007

No active faults lie beneath the site of the high-tech and highly expensive gym UC Berkeley hopes to build next to the landmarked Memorial Stadium. 

That’s the finding of the seismologic consultants hired by the university to conduct a detailed examination of the earth beneath the Student Athlete High Performance Center, a $125 million, 186,000-square-foot partly subterranean complex. 

That project is part of 451,000 square feet of new construction planned in the stadium area over the next few years. 

Geometric Consultants, Inc., an Oakland firm, conducted the study to complete the investigation of specific areas of the Student Athlete High Performance Center site not included in their earlier analysis. 

The report, announced Thursday by the university’s public affairs staff, could resolve one of the key issues of a lawsuit challenging construction of the center at the site of the grove where protesters have been perched in the branches in protest of the project for the past 183 days. 

The issue of seismic safety was one of the concerns that prompted lawsuits against the project by the City of Berkeley as well as neighbors and an environmental group. 

Stephan Volker, attorney for the California Oaks Foundation, a plaintiff in the suit, said the new report simply confirms that the university failed to follow state environmental law when it approved the gym project. 

“This is a very tardy report, six months too late. The California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) requires the university to circulate an adequate seismological review before approving a project,” he said. “That failure was not rectified by this after-the-fact report.” 

Volker said he is submitting the 92-page document to his own expert, seismologist Robert Curry, who has studied the faults of the Berkeley Hills and taught geology at UC Santa Cruz for two decades. 

The adequacy of the university’s earthquake studies prior to its approval last December of the Environmental Impact Report (EIR) for the massive construction program in the stadium area is only one of the alleged failures cited in the suits against the university by the tree advocates, the Panoramic Hill Association and the city. 

For Volker, a key failure of the EIR was its lack of any mention of the “logging operation” that will strip away a venerable grove of Coastal Live Oaks “held in the highest regard by thousands of citizens of the East Bay and by Native Americans everywhere.” 

In addition to the trees and the seismic issues, city officials are worried about other impacts that a major new construction program will cause to already strained city streets and public serrvices, and neighbors are concerned about those issues and specific impacts on their residences, including tightly constricted access during emergencies. 

Though the university had planned to start construction at the gym in January, the lawsuits won an injunction from Alameda County Superior Court Judge Barbara J. Miller stopping work pending the outcome of a hearing on the evidence. 

A hearing on the action has yet to be scheduled. 

The seismological report remains a critical issue because all three plaintiffs had alleged that the gym project violated the Alquist-Priolo Act, which governs construction on projects on or within 50 feet of active faults. 

There is no question that the stadium itself sits directly over the Hayward Fault, which federal seismologists say is the most likely site of the Bay Area’s next major earthquake disaster, and Alquist-Priolo rules will apply to the university’s plans for a major stadium overhaul and expansion. 

Vice Chancellor Ed Denton, the university’s development boss, has estimated the cost of the year’s delay at between $8 million and $10 million on top of the already-estimated cost. 

The 142,000-square-foot, four-story gym would house the latest in technology designed to get the most out of university athletes whose programs are a major attraction for big-dollar donors to a university increasingly reliant on private pockets to fund its programs. 

By February, university Athletic Director Sandy Barbour was announcing that donors had pledged more than $100 million toward the gym. 

Construction can’t commence until after the end of the football season, putting off work at the site until next January at the earliest. 

Meanwhile, university police have continued to arrest protesters at the site, said Zachary Running Wolf, himself arrested twice at the site and currently facing felony charges. 

“The university police are not letting up,” he said Friday.