Regents Greenlight BP Lab, LBNL Computing Center

By Richard Brenneman
Thursday May 29, 2008 - 09:52:00 AM

The University of California Board of Regents Tuesday signed off on the environmental impact reports on two controversial buildings at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory. 

The finding clears the way—barring an adverse ruling in a pending court case—for a July construction start for facilities that will house the controversial agrofuel program funded by BP, the British oil giant, and the National Energy Research Scientific Computing (NERSC) Center, a Department of Energy facility. 

The lawsuit, now being deliberated by Alameda County Superior Court Judge Frank Roesch, was filed by Berkeley preservationists—including a Daily Planet editor—in yet another legal challenge to university-related building plans. [see www.berkeleydailyplanet.com/issue/2007-08-24/article/27856?status=301] 

The regents adopted an earlier environmental review last July that focused on the lab’s Long Range Development Plan, approving a Statement of Overriding Considerations declaring that the impacts of the planned 980,000 square feet of new construction are offset by mitigation measures and the need for new facilities. 

Plaintiffs in that action include Lesley Emmington, a former city landmarks commissioner, Save the Bay co-founder Sylvia McLaughlin, Panoramic Hill Association activist Janice Thomas, Hank Gehman and Anne Wagley, this newspaper’s Arts and Calendar editor. 

Alameda environmental attorney Michael Lozeau is representing the plaintiffs, while Michael H. Zischke of San Francisco is arguing on behalf of the regents. 

“We’re very disappointed that the Committee on Grounds and Buildings decided unanimously in favor of the buildings,” said McLaughlin. “We haven’t regrouped yet.” 

McLaughlin said “I would like to think that a win” in Roesch’s court could halt construction, at least for the moment. The plaintiffs have asked the university to recirculate the Environmental Impact Report on the LRDP, the document under which the two projects are included—though each had a separate EIR. 

Of the two buildings, one, the Helios facility [see http://www.lbl.gov/Community/Helios/documents/index.html], directly overlooks Strawberry Canyon, which environmentalists contend is endangered by the lab’s construction agenda. The second building, the Computational Research and Theory (CRT) Facility [see http://www.lbl. gov/Community/CRT/documents/index.html], lies at the other end of the lab’s 202-acre campus. 

In an earlier session on May 13, regents approved budget increases for both buildings. 

While the Helios building’s budget was originally approved in March 2007, at $159.4 million, regents earlier this month increased the figure to $198.2 million, which includes $70 million from state revenue bonds specially authorized by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger. Total building costs will run $898 a square foot for the 85,536-square-foot lab and office structure. 

According to the report presented to the regents earlier this month, part of the increase was due to “significantly more problematic conditions” on the building site than had been anticipated, and the rest because of inflating construction costs. 

The CRT facility cost increased by $22.5 million from the originally approved $90.4 million, bring the total cost to $112.9 million, or $652 for each of the structure’s 73,000 square feet. No bond funding is included in the CRT project.