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Bates Declares Lawsuit Victory; Wozniak Says Not So

By Judith Scherr
Thursday June 26, 2008 - 09:33:00 AM

While Mayor Tom Bates declared victory last week, the day after a judge’s ruling on Berkeley’s lawsuit over UC Berkeley’s proposed construction of a sports facility adjacent to Memorial Stadium, City Councilmember Gordon Wozniak called the ruling a loss for the city. 

Addressing the media at a City Hall press conference, Bates said the city won its two principal points: One was “to make sure Alquist-Priolo applies”—the Alquist–Priolo Act governs construction on or near earthquake faults—and the second was to ensure that the university conduct further environmental review before construction, Bates said. 

“This is the first time it has been clarified. The judge agreed with the city and that the university will have to abide by Alquist-Priolo,” Bates said. 

While Bates underscored that the city would have preferred a negotiated settlement, he said the approximate $250,000 spent on the case was justified. “We felt it was an important principle,” he said. “The ruling proves [the expenditure] was justified. These are not easy issues to resolve.”  

Councilmember Gordon Wozniak, a retired Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory employee who sat in on the press conference but didn’t speak publicly, had another take on the situation: “We spent a quarter of a million dollars to get our butts kicked,” he said, arguing that the city could have negotiated a settlement.  

Wozniak contended that the ruling was not significant. “The university always said they would follow Alquist–Priolo,” he said. 

Wozniak added, however, that the ruling is a “big win” for people living on Panoramic Hill, adjacent to Memorial Stadium. The Panoramic Hill Neighborhood Association’s case was one of three lawsuits consolidated by the court. A suit brought by the California Oaks Foundation was the third. 

Wozniak said he thought that as a result of the lawsuit Memorial Stadium would be retrofitted and that football practice would take place at the stadium, but said he believed that regular football games would not be played there, something the neighbors would celebrate. 

Bates told the press that the city’s interest in the lawsuit was not in protecting the trees or in the tree sitters; saving the oaks is a separate issue, he said. (Councilmembers Betty Olds and Dona Spring are among those who have joined protests to save the trees at the Memorial Stadium grove.) 

He said Berkeley police have not been involved in recent actions to remove tree sitters and their equipment from the grove and would assist UC police only if a judge clearly stated that construction was permitted. 

The city will go back to court Tuesday to clarify its interpretation of the judge’s order. The university will respond to the city. 

The City Council will meet in closed session Tuesday at 5:30 p.m. to discuss further legal actions, including a possible appeal, Bates said.