Public Comment

Response to Open Letter to Stand Up for Berkeley

Friday December 07, 2007

Accusations have been flung far and wide against project opponents. Innuendo, bordering on slander, has substituted for argument and debate which references the legal documents under review. A partial project description summarized in response to the most recent vitriol can be referenced in this newspaper in the prepared table and throughout the text of this commentary. Meanwhile, reflections on this state of affairs are offered as follows:  


What is the stadium area development and who says so?  

A public process was held, as required by a state law, in which the University of California presented a project planned for the Berkeley campus, studied the environmental impacts of the proposed project, and provided opportunity for the public to comment on the project. 

Separate and apart from this legally mandated public process, extralegal dialogue has occurred throughout Berkeley and the region, led by the university, athletic support groups, environmental groups, neighborhood groups, civil rights groups, academicians and scholars, and individual activist of all stripes. In this dynamic environment of casual and impassioned communications on all sides, the “project,” legally known as the Southeast Campus Integrated Projects, informally known as the stadium area development, inaccurately minimized as a mere retrofit and remodel, has been reduced in people’s minds to ever smaller bits of digestible information. Meanwhile, the project in all its complexity has been aired before the Alameda County Superior Court over a nine day period of oral argument.  

On one occasion I was privileged to sit in an auditorium at a private event with 100 other people and hear the Athletic Director tell the group that the stadium area development would be “good for neighbors.” Having studied the Draft Environmental Impact Report, I was incredulous but as Director Barbour was giving a speech as an honored guest, there was no opportunity for comment.  

In other venues as well, various private events have been held in which the university’s planning department representatives are noticeably absent yet various high ranking representatives of the university have described the project to a selective audience. Other sources of information with uneven access include television, radio, newspapers, magazines (including alumnae publications), websites, and e-mails all of which have informed people for better or worse.  

Hired to deliver a project, some university administrators have become self-invested cheerleaders for development. Aside from the confidence of their speech or how much we might like or respect them, their opinions lack the weight we would wish. What matters is the project that’s been reviewed pursuant to all applicable laws – and that would be the project as laid out in the EIR for the Southeast Campus Integrated Projects (SCIP).  


How would the project affect the environment?  

“Substantial adverse Impacts” are anticipated in the following seven areas and cannot be mitigated to below significance: Aesthetics, Cultural Resources, Geology, Seismicity and Soils, Hydrology and Water Quality, Noise, Transportation and Traffic, and Utilities–Wastewater and Steam/Chilled Water.  

When reviewing the DEIR, many people are surprised to find, for example, that “construction of the first phase of seismic retrofit and program improvements to the CMS, including the SAHPC, would cause a significant adverse change in the historical significance of the CMS.” (DEIR p. 4.2-32)  

A city-wide perspective on project impacts can be found by reading the City of Berkeley’s Comment Letter on the SCIP DEIR. 

Among the observations are the following:  

• “The DEIR … fails to recognize that hydrologic impacts extend downstream from the project site.” p. 27  

• “This DEIR underestimates the responsibilities of the City of Berkeley Police and Fire Departments in regard to addressing emergency needs on campus, and then continues to underestimate the impacts of the project on that responsibility.” p. 28. 

• “Memorial Stadium will continue to have a capacity over 60,000 people and is located in a highly constrained area, on an earthquake fault in a high fire risk area. It would be very hard to find a more vulnerable site with worse access for a stadium anywhere in the Bay Area.” p. 29  


Could the project be scaled back so as to reduce the impacts and the effect on the environment?  

In fact, the university greatly expanded the proposed project at the 11th hour. As described in Petitioner Panoramic Hill Association’s Opening Trial Brief 9/19/07, 

“(b)eginning in 1999 and continuing through the Design Guidelines prepared in March 2005 for the Stadium Project, the University proceeded to plan on a seismic and program improvement project for the Stadium that respected the historical importance of the Stadium and its immediate surroundings by designing the improvements to fit within the Stadium’s existing walls. In 2005, the University suddenly not only needed a seismically safe Stadium with modernized program facilities comparable to other PAC-10 schools, but in addition it sought to build a much larger facility, outbuilding and apparently outshining its PAC-10 rivals. Beginning in late 2005, the Design Guidelines and previous planning were set aside in favor of the planned facility extending outside of the Stadium walls and into the adjacent oak grove.” (p. 6, 7) 

The athletic training center would not only serve football players but would also be the primary hub of operations for 13 teams. Eight of these teams – men and women’s golf, men and women’s crew, men and women’s gymnastics, and men and women’s soccer —would not even play or practice in the southeast quadrant of campus. By expanding the facility, the university reduced its options for locating the facility.  


How would the project be financed?  

Not under the purview of the California Environmental Quality Act or the Alquist-Priolo Earthquake Fault Zoning Act and noticeably absent until recently in public dialogue is the question of financing the stadium and all its program improvements including the Student Athlete High Performance Center (SAHPC). Although some people would suggest that privately-funded stadium financing is not a legitimate public concern and is outside the scope of Berkeleyans’ self-interest, this is hardly the case.  

There is devil in the details of what private financing means. It is not the same as charitable gifts but instead, as explained by Vice-Chancellor of Administration Nathan Brostrom, while speaking before the Berkeley City Council, much of the stadium retrofit and renovation would be financed with a privately funded bond.  

Berkeleyans might well ask from where the money will come to pay back the non-charitable investors. And who would these investors be? And would there be legally bound constraints on stadium use that cannot be changed by issuing a new EIR?  

As the Athletic Department has already increased their TV broadcasting opportunities to include night time games yet still struggles financially, (, a financing scheme based on a privately financed bond might affect revenue-generating pressures on stadium use. In short, private investors will expect a return on their investment, and the return might well be paid for with revenue-generating events at the stadium.  

In closing, the project as described in the environmental review documents is antithetical to lovers of Berkeley, the environment, public safety and common sense. The environmental impacts are significant and substantially adverse. The financing scheme adds to the potential detriment from this project. In short, no one likes an adversarial relationship, but when one exists, it does not help matters to pretend otherwise.  


The Stadium Renovation and its Use 

Comparative illustrations to show the added height above the rim 

Comparison of existing view looking west from Centenial Drive at Stadium Rim Way and visual simulation of proposed project. (DEIR Fig. 4.1-19A)  

“Visual simulation of proposed project (press box and east stadium improvements)” (sic) DEIR Fig. 4.1-19B 

Also see Historic Structure Report by Siegel & Strain Architects, commissioned by the university, titled “University of California Berkeley California Memorial Stadium,” in which recommendations include the following: “No additions or alterations should project above the historic rim of the stadium.” (p. 60)  


Definition of capacity events 

“The project proposes up to seven night- or day-time events annually at CMS apart from football games, scheduled for evenings or weekends, that might fill the CMS to capacity, defined as attendance anticipated to be in excess of 30,000 people. The events would potentially bring large numbers of people to the project area on any day of the week, not just the weekends when football games normally take place. These events would occur throughout the year, whereas the football season is limited to a few months out of the year and home football games limited to up to eight times a year within the football season.” (FEIR, p. 9-1-24).  

Thus, does the SCIP EIR establish a baseline of eight home games, seven additional capacity events (>30,000), and unlimited number of less than capacity events (<30,000).  


VIP luxury boxes 

“At a mezzanine level located above the main concourse, an interior club with adjacent club seating in the seating bowl, with new wider treads and seats, is proposed. The new seating would be provided with 2 feet 6 inch spacing between the benches. Located on a new elevated section, the seating would allow for a larger club space with views of the San Francisco Bay to the 

Southwest and into the seating bowl in the other direction.” (DEIR p. 3-53) 


The cultural and historic significance of the oak grove west of the stadium 

Although a 3 for 1 planting scheme is proposed to “limit the loss” (DEIR p. 4.2-33), even with this mitigation there would be a “significant change in the historical significance of the CMS.” (DEIR p. 4.2-32). “This portion of the existing site retains a relatively high level of historical integrity, including trees paths, and stairs which contribute to the historical significance of the site…This zone of the site is significant and plays a substantial role in conveying the historical significance of the CMS, the landscape, and their relation to the main campus to the west.” (DEIR p. 4.2-32) “The project would eliminate much of the existing character of this site and likely reduce the number of “rustic” landscapes on campus to two—Founders’ Rock and Observatory Hill, with the latter also likely to change in character as the CV Starr East Asian Library and eventually the Tien Center for East Asian Studies…is completed.” (DEIR 4.2-33). 


Prominent light towers of undetermined size  

“Currently the CMS is lit only by practice lighting and temporary lighting for night games. Permanent practice lighting is mounted on four arrays on the east rim, and four arrays in the west bowl…. On the east rim, four new vertical profile structures would be installed and would be approximately 43 feet above the phase II new elevated deck (+485’-9”) or 58’-3” above the east 

rim promenade…The four new vertical profile structures may eventually be reinstalled atop the proposed east seating structure.” (FEIR 9.1-13 (emphasis added) 


Information about the expanded subterranean concourse 

There will be a “new Lower Concourse on the east side of the seating bowl…” (DEIR p. 3-50) (emphasis added).  

“The grade under the east side of the CMS would be excavated to allow construction of new programmatic spaces…” (DEIR, p. 2-29). (emphasis added) 


Janice Thomas is a Berkeley resident.