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Regents Approve Major Expansion at Lawrence Lab

By Richard Brenneman
Friday July 20, 2007

Despite pleas from Berkeley city officials, the UC Regents Thursday voted unanimously to approve Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory’s Long Range Development Plan (LRDP) 2025. 

“We had asked the regents to delay action, because we felt they didn’t adequately address the concerns we raised about their environmental impact report (EIR),” said Berkeley City Manager Phil Kamlarz. 

“We just got it a week ago Monday, and we had only four days to respond,” he said. 

The Board of Regents Grounds and Building Committee had voted unanimously to approve the document Tuesday, and the full board approval came Thursday without any discussion. 

Approval of the EIR paves the way for construction of 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 over the next two decades. 

City officials argued that lab officials had failed to provide adequate responses to their concerns about the extensive developments in an environmentally sensitive landscape where earthquakes and wildfires poses major threats. 

“Our staff dropped everything to prepare a response,” said Kamlarz. “They didn’t respond.” 

The city manager said another major concern for the city is that the EIR failed to consider the cumulative impacts of the lab’s extensive development plans along with those planned for UC Berkeley just down the hill.  

The city has already filed legal action challenging the EIR for the university’s Southeast Campus Integrated Projects, which calls for more than 300,000 square feet of development including two major new buildings, an underground parking complex and large-scale work on Memorial Stadium. 

That suit, along with three others filed by neighbors, sports fans and environmental groups, is currently slated for a September hearing in Alameda County Su-perior Court. 

Kamlarz said the lab—run by the university under contract with the federal Department of Energy—failed to respond to the city’s plea that they look for alternative locations for buildings, including the university-owned Richmond Field Station. 

The EIR dismissed the field station as an alternative with a few words, erroneously reporting that a cleanup of toxics-laden soil there was being conducted by the San Francisco Bay Regional Water Quality Control Board. (In fact, the cleanup is under the aegis of the state Department of Toxic Substances Control, which recently ordered the school to begin preparing plans for cleaning up more than 3,000 truckloads of contaminated soil it had illegally hauled to an adjacent site.) 

UC spokesperson Chris Harrington said the vote, taken during the board’s meeting at the UC Santa Barbara campus, was unanimous, with more than two-thirds of the regents in attendance for the Thursday afternoon session. 

“We think the regents should take another look,” said Kamlarz. 

Local environmental groups have also protested the lab’s expansion plans, including the Committee to Minimize Toxic Waste. 

Pamela Shivola has urged a halt to developing the site, given the extensive network of seismic faults documented in the complex’s 203 acres and soil and groundwater pollution that includes radioactive tritium. 

The regents also voted unanimous approval Thursday for a 25,000-square-foot, 60-bedroom, four-story guest house, which was included in the square footage allowed under the lab’s previous LRDP. 

The city had not objected to that project, which is designed to house visiting researchers and students working on projects at the lab. 

The regents in March approved two other buildings at the site, including the Helios building, which will house researchers working at the Energy Biosciences Institute, a controversial $500 million BP-funded research program designed to turn crops and coal into fuel for internal combustion engines.