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Council to Consider City-UC Settlement Behind Closed Doors

By Judith Scherr
Tuesday September 04, 2007

A closed-door Berkeley City Council session set for 5 p.m. today (Tuesday) could freeze the public out of the process and result in a deficient compromise settlement of the December 2006 City of Berkeley v. University of California lawsuit, Councilmembers Dona Spring and Kriss Worthington say. 

Or the settlement could bring about a positive compromise, Councilmember Gordon Wozniak told the Planet. 

The suit challenges university plans to build an athletic training facility that would be connected to Memorial Stadium, the university’s football arena. 

A formal announcement of the closed session, coming from City Attorney Manuela Albuquerque’s office (despite the fact that the city attorney has no legal right to call a closed session, according to Worthington) says simply that the council will discuss the litigation. It says nothing of addressing a settlement agreement.  

UC spokesperson Dan Mogulof, however, told the Planet Friday that a university-proposed compromise settlement was in the works and that the council would have it soon. “They’re still working on the final details,” he said. 

Councilmember Dona Spring said that from experience, the university settlement would be lacking. “I assume there’s some piddley little offer [that will be on the table] at the meeting,” she told the Planet Friday.  

Councilmember Kriss Worthington said he didn’t know whether the proposal would be good or bad, but the critical error in discussing the question in closed session Tuesday would be that the public is left out of the loop. This is what happened in May 2005 when Berkeley settled a lawsuit over the university’s Long Range Development Project before the public had a chance to see the proposal and weigh in on it, he said. 

“How can the public advocate for or against the proposal?” Worthington asked. “The public is effectively prohibited from making comments.” 

Councilmember Gordon Wozniak welcomed the closed-door opportunity to discuss a possible settlement agreement. “There’s no great conspiracy,” he told the Daily Planet Friday.  

Wozniak said he wasn’t sure if the UC proposal would be made public before the meeting, but assured the Planet that “the terms [of the agreement] will have to be made public.” 

Wozniak underscored that it is better for the city to settle with the university than to go to trial. 

Worthington said that if the university wanted to settle the lawsuit, the appropriate place would have been in court, at a pre-trial conference. (The trial is on the Alameda County Superior Court calendar for mid-September.) 

UC’s Mogulof said there had been some proposals made in court earlier in the year. But, more recently, new facts have come to light, particularly that the proposed Student Athlete High Performance Center likely lies outside a critical earthquake hazard zone. The city had argued earlier that the athletic training facility plans fall within the earthquake zone. 

In a letter written to attorney Charles Olson, the attorney working on behalf of the university, and faxed to the council and the media Friday afternoon, Worthington urged the university or city to e-mail the council in advance of the meeting with the proposed settlement conditions.  

“To wait and distribute at the special council session would make it difficult for City Councilmembers to have the time to analyze the pluses and minuses of such proposals,” Worthington wrote. 

The city lawsuit challenges more than university approval of the Student Athlete High Performance Center. The litigation faults the university for preparing what it says is an inadequate environmental review of the project and for proposing the destruction of 100 trees, many of them Coastal Live Oaks, in the building process. 

Further, the city—and its neighborhood partners—contend that egress from the Panoramic Hill neighborhood adjacent to the proposed facility would be cut off during a disaster and that enhanced football lighting would be detrimental to the neighborhood. 

The meeting will be held at the council chambers in the Maudelle Shirek Building, 2134 Martin Luther King Jr. Way. Public comment on the litigation will be heard in open session.