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City Rejects UC’s Settlement Offer

By Judith Scherr
Friday September 07, 2007

Saying the university’s “compromise” plan to settle city and community lawsuits over building a new athletic facility next to the football stadium was inadequate, the City Council voted 7-1-1 in closed session Tuesday to turn down a settlement offer and move ahead to trial.  

Councilmember Gordon Woz-niak voted in opposition and Councilmember Kriss Worthing-ton abstained. 

The vote came after a day of heavy community lobbying against the compromise, including a daytime rally and press conference which attracted some 60 supporters and produced an overflow crowd at the public portion of the closed-door council session. 

UC Berkeley did its own mobilization, bringing student athletes, their supporters, university officials and others to speak to the council in favor of UC’s offer. 

Three lawsuits targeting the university’s proposal to build an athletic training facility—those of the city, the Panoramic Hill Neighborhood Association and the Save the Oaks Foundation—will be heard together Sept. 19 and Sept. 20 in Alameda Superior Court.  

At issue is whether the university wrote an adequate environmental document concerning the construction of the training center adjacent to Memorial Stadium and whether the university has adequate plans to retrofit the stadium, which sits on an active earthquake fault. Other concerns noted in the lawsuits include the legality of cutting down the grove of trees west of the stadium to build the training facility and concerns that a proposed parking garage will bring increased traffic down a narrow road. 

Many of those calling on the City Council to continue the lawsuit homed in on the safety question. At the rally/press conference Tuesday afternoon called by “Stand Up Berkeley,” Gray Brechin, UC Berkeley geography professor and historian, was among those who spoke about the possible collapse of Memorial Stadium, which holds 70,000 people and daily houses 500 office staff. 

The stadium “is resting on one quarter of a million yards of loose fill. A fault passes through the middle,” Brechin said, going on to point out that there is “rusty rebar” sticking out of the structure, there are dry rot problems and more. 

The university has yet to announce specific retrofit plans for the stadium. 

Before the closed session, 18 speakers called on the council to settle the lawsuit and allow the university to move ahead building the training facility adjacent to the stadium. There were 47 speakers who opposed settling. Because of the lawsuits, a judge’s order has stopped the university from moving ahead with construction of the facility, originally planned to be built before the stadium is retrofitted. 

One of the arguments in favor of settling, repeated several times, including by women on UC lacrosse and crew teams, was that the new training facility was needed because currently female athletes have inferior locker rooms.  

“Several women’s teams have no facilities,” Berkeley resident Mitchell Wilson told the Daily Planet before the public comment period began, adding that building the stadium anywhere else would be “radically inconveniencing students.” Wilson, who held a printed sign calling for settling the lawsuit, said he is unaffiliated with the university. 

The offer released by the university to the council and public Tuesday afternoon included the university’s commitment to retrofitting the stadium, including “aggressively pursuing a financing plan.” That plan will be before the UC Regents in November. 

The university further promised (as it had earlier) to build only enough parking spaces to replace the parking lost when developing the various projects in the southeast quadrant of the campus. 

The offer included a promise to the city that in addition to eight football games, the seven other events to be held at the stadium would not have amplification greater than for football games, “which precludes scheduling of rock concerts or similar commercial high-amplification events,” the document says. 

The offer letter also repeated an earlier commitment to widening the access road to the stadium. 

The city’s attorney on the case, Harriet Steiner of McDonough Holland & Allen, summed up the council position in a short written response to the university’s offer: “The City Council reviewed the settlement offer and determined that it was not acceptable because it does not seriously address the issues that the city was concerned with . . .” 

At the public comment session before the council’s executive session, Ted Garrett, the Berkeley Chamber of Commerce’s new executive director, had claimed that an out-of-court agreement would improve now-strained town-gown relations. “The old paradigm of push and shove has to end,” he said. 

Vice Chancellor Nathan Brostrom spoke to counter the city’s arguments that alternative sites hadn’t been considered in the EIR. “We evaluated a dozen sites,” he said. “There’s one that meets our needs.”  

The cost of the lawsuit was raised several times. Settling out of court “stops the hemorrhaging of public funds,” said Alexis Kleinhaus, a Berkeley resident and former player on the UC Berkeley women’s varsity soccer team. Others said the money would be better spent for the homeless or other city needs. 

Inadequate sports medicine facilities will be brought up to quality standards in a new training facility, including the availability of a whirlpool, which is currently lacking, said Celia Clark, who works in sports medicine at the university.  

Among the 47 people spoke to the council before the closed-door session in favor of going forward with the lawsuit were people who have been sitting in the trees west of the stadium for months protesting the university’s plan to cut down the trees when it builds the training facility. 

“We can have old trees and a new gym,” said a man who identified himself as Ayr and who has been working on the ground to support the tree sitters. “We need to protect the few places we haven’t destroyed,” he said. Others noted that the oak grove is part of a fragile eco-system that should be preserved. 

While some who supported the settlement pointed to the cost of the lawsuit itself, Berkeley resident and opponent Judith Epstein noted that the city already pays for police and fire protection for all the events the university has at the stadium. To bring in more revenue, the university is now proposing seven more events each year in addition to the eight football games. 

Safety was brought up a number of times. “When that fault goes, we’ll be excavating the bodies,” Berkeley Disaster Commissioner Jesse Townley told the council.