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Lawyers Question UC Stadium Settlement Offer

By Richard Brenneman
Tuesday July 03, 2007

While UC Berkeley may have offered to downsize a planned parking structure northwest of Memorial Stadium, opposing lawyers say that’s not enough to derail the lawsuits holding up construction of a new high-tech training gym. 

Furthermore, the offer—floated through a statement to donors by University Athletic Director Sandy Barbour—wasn’t presented to at least two of the attorneys in the suits, said two of the lawyers now suing the university. 

According to Barbour, in a message last month to donors, the offer would “drastically reduce the size of a new parking lot under Maxwell Field,” which would only replace spaces lost to construction in the area without adding new slots. 

Lawsuits by the city, two groups of tree supporters and the Panoramic Hill Association seek to block university plans to build a $125 million gym along the west wall of Memorial Stadium, the site of a grove of coastal live oaks. 

The university’s proposal would reduce the total number of spaces in the underground lot planned for construction beneath Maxwell Family Field from 911 to 500. 

Michael Lozeau, attorney for residents of Panoramic Hill said his clients might be interested in discussions if the university “took a pencil to the SAHPC and phases I, II and III” of construction of the so-called Southeast Campus Integrated Projects (SCIP). 

Those projects include the Student Athlete High Performance Center (the SAHPC), a 186,000-square-foot high tech gym to be built at the site of the stadium grove currently occupied by tree-sitters protesting their planned demolition. 

The university picked a contractor to build the gym on March 28, Hunt Construction Group, which specializes in building sports facilities. 

University officials picked the firm after Alameda County Superior Court Judge Barbara J. Miller had ordered a halt to any construction activities at the site pending the outcome a hearing on the lawsuits scheduled for Sept. 19. 

“We haven’t seen anything,” said Stephan Volker, the environmental law attorney whose clients include three groups, Berkeley City Councilmember Dona Spring and other individuals. 

Volker and Lozeau said the university is legally obligated to present any settlement offer to all the parties in all the lawsuits. 

“I don’t think it’s a real offer. They can’t settle without our consent,” said Volker, “and we’re in this for the duration. I expect to take it all the way to the Supreme Court.” 

Another action was filed by Friends of Tightwad Hill, representing fans who will lose their free views from an expanse of hillside about the stadium’s east wall, which will be blocked by raised seating. 

The SCIP projects include the gym and parking structure, a major new building that will provide offices and a common area for meetings of the law and business schools, and a major retrofit of the stadium itself, including the addition of a press box and luxury sky boxes for big ticket donors about the western wall. 

The plans also include permanent night lights, a bone of contention with residents of the hillside above. 

While a settlement of the city’s earlier lawsuit challenging the university’s Long Range Development Plan 2020 blocked most new city lawsuits challenging university projects, the SCIP plans were specifically excluded. 

Another contention by Barbour—that a university-funded seismic study of the gym site proved it is safe for new construction—has also been challenged by the opposing lawyers, including Berkeley City Attorney Manuela Albuquerque.