Editorial: Don’t Settle For Less Than a Complete EIR

By Becky O'Malley
Friday September 07, 2007

A number of citizens, including some who live in District 5, have forwarded to us Councilmember Laurie Capitelli’s thoughtful explanation of why he voted to reject UC’s proposed settlement of the city’s lawsuit on the EIR for the gym/office building proposed adjacent to Memorial Stadium. He makes several good points, obvious ones that can’t be reiterated too often. 

First, “As the provider of first-response emergency services to everyone, including UC students and staff along the Piedmont corridor, the city should have some input into the density and configuration of development along the eastern edge of the campus.” 

And also, even more important “the real seismic safety issue is not whether an athletic center can be built to appropriate standards, but the Memorial Stadium itself, its age and the fact that it straddles the Hayward fault. There is a lot of work to be done—time and resources—to determine whether or not the stadium is even capable of being retrofitted adequately under the strict requirements of the Alquist-Priolo Act. My deep fear is that UC will move its athletes into a new facility next to the stadium, only to find out that the stadium cannot be seismically retrofitted.” 

He ends by saying that the “City Council has the privilege and the responsibility to weigh all these factors in light of our priority —public safety—and make a reasoned decision based upon risks and benefits...To that end, I would support a negotiated settlement with the university, ONLY IF there are adequate mitigations that can be guaranteed. I was not satisfied this was the case in reviewing UC’s proposal last evening.” A sensible decision, supported by at least six of his colleagues.  

But in his final conclusion, his reasoning jumps the tracks a bit. He says that “I did vote to proceed with the lawsuit, leaving open the possibility of entertaining another more comprehensive and significant proposal from the university either before or after the results of the lawsuit are released.” 

Here’s the problem: The lawsuit contends that the environmental impact report submitted by the university is inadequate, that it doesn’t provide sufficient information on which to base crucial decisions. The problem with offering to settle “if adequate mitigations...can be guaranteed” is that until you have full information about what all the environmental impacts of the project will be, you can’t be sure that the offered remedies are adequate. 

One example of the problem is the one frequently cited by the ardent but poorly informed sports fans who want to build it all now and damn the torpedos: the location of the Hayward fault. Whether the building and the stadium are smack on top of the fault or a few feet or yards off it makes not much difference: what counts is how both buildings will behave when the big shaking comes down, how the 72,000-plus fans will get out, and where they’ll go when they do. Or even how the tenants of the gym/office building will get out if a game’s not in progress when the quake strikes.  

George W. Breslauer, executive vice chancellor and provost, and Nathan Brostrom, vice chancellor-administration, even admit the point in a letter to the UC faculty forwarded to us by a recipient who described it, tongue firmly in cheek, as a remarkable document which should be used in a rhetoric or logic course. A typical bit of shaky analysis: 

“The city also asked that we conduct additional seismic testing on the site of the new Student-Athlete High Performance Center. In response, an independent geological firm was hired. New cores were drilled and new trenches were dug, in addition to the ones we had done as part of our original study. The additional testing proved beyond any reasonable doubt that there are no active fault lines under the site. Recently those findings were reviewed and certified by the country’s leading seismic authority, the United States Geological Survey. Moreover, seismologists and engineers know from studies of past earthquakes that the level of ground shaking is approximately the same right next to a fault as it is anywhere else within two miles of the fault” [emphasis added].  

Exactly. Shall we discuss the failure of logic in the preceding paragraph, class? Proving that there are no active fault lines under the site proves.....what? Within two miles, it’s what we all agree is a toss-up, pun intended. 

One more point: on Thursday the UC student council, now grandly named the ASUC Senate, passed a resolution saying, among other things: “the ASUC encourage the City of Berkeley to engage in dialogue with the University of California regarding a settlement before the lawsuit goes back to court on Sept. 19, 2007.” 

Capitelli’s argument that the stadium and the gym can’t be considered in isolation is key. The reason so many different parties are suing the university at this point, including the city, is that the school is proposing so many projects simultaneously that it’s virtually impossible to assess their cumulative impact. Well-established California law, under the California Environmental Quality Act, prohibits “segmentation”: breaking up projects into small parts so that the overall impact is disguised. That’s why there’s absolutely no point in even considering settling the city’s lawsuit before it goes to court.  

The only way all the relevant information about the huge amount of contemplated activity, even just in Strawberry Canyon, can be intelligently analyzed is by doing a full dress environmental impact report with all the cards on the table. The Berkeley City Council has a responsibility to citizens not to settle for anything less, especially before the case goes to court. 

The sponsors of the ASUC resolution put out a Facebook call-to-action before the City Council meeting:  

“LET YOUR VOICE BE HEARD!” Meet on the Sproul steps at 3:30. We will take the bus to the City Council special session together and let them know we want a safe and state-of-the-art facility for the best student-athletes in the country!”  

Why sports-minded young folks thought they needed a bus to get to the City Council chambers, a few blocks from Sproul, is not clear. Perhaps someone, for example the Cal athletic department, offered to provide a bus for them?  

And not all students responded enthusiastically to the rallying cries. Here’s one Facebook naysayer: “Use that money to pay for tuition. This is a public university, not a football fan club. If our donors don’t like us without a good football team, then what does that say about them? College is about education, not thinly-veiled homoerotic wargames. We have a real war going on, anyway. You want to see grown men hurting each other, switch on CNN. Only in Iraq, sometimes kids get in the way.”  

The writer has no business blaming only gay men for excessive drooling over virile football players, since many women have the same problem, but otherwise he speaks for a lot of students and alumni, and for many Berkeley citizens.