Court Hears Arguments UC Suit

By Richard Brenneman
Friday January 11, 2008

The courtroom battle over UC Berkeley’s stadium area projects has taken a new twist—arguments over whether or not a judge should gather critical new evidence. 

A hearing on the issue is scheduled this afternoon (Friday) in a Hayward courtroom. The focus of the furor is the contention by plaintiffs challenging the university’s Memorial Stadium-area projects that the new high-tech gym planned along the stadium’s western wall is attached to the landmarked sports venue rather than a separate structure. 

While the City of Berkeley, Panoramic Hill Association, the California Oak Foundation and other plaintiffs contend the buildings are attached, they don’t want Judge Barbara J. Miller to collect expert evidence on the issue. 

If the buildings are attached, the $125 million gym project would fall under the provisions of the Alquist-Priolo Act that limit additions or renovations of buildings within 50 feet of active earthquake faults. 

Since the stadium itself sits directly atop the main trace of the Hayward Fault, a finding that the gym is attached to the stadium would sharply restrict the university’s plans—which include, in addition to the four-story gym and office complex, major renovations of the stadium itself. 

Judge Miller issued an order Dec. 10, two months after attorneys made their final arguments, calling on both sides to present written declarations from experts addressing the question. 

That triggered a flood of letters and briefs, with the plaintiffs opposing any move to introduce new evidence after both sides had rested their respective cases. 

In a Dec. 26 letter to the judge, San Francisco attorney Charles R. Olson, the university’s outside counsel, argued that the state Evidence Code gives the court “discretion to accept extra-record evidence.” 

Michael Lozeau, the attorney for the Panoramic Hill Association, said that the real issue before the court is not whether the structures are connected—though the plaintiffs contend that is, indeed, the case. 

The real issue, he said, is the fact that UC Board of Regents failed to consider the issue when approving the project more than a year ago. 

Construction of the gym was originally set to begin a year ago, but the lawsuit stalled the university’s plans. The planned cutting of a grove of Coastal Live Oaks led to an ongoing protest by tree-sitters which has now lasted more than 400 days.