Public Urges City to File Appeal over UC Gym Project Decision

By Judith Scherr
Tuesday July 01, 2008 - 04:16:00 PM

More than 60 people came to the open session before the Berkeley City Council closed meeting Monday to urge the council to “do what’s right” by standing up to the university and appealing the judge’s final decision in the lawsuit on the sports training/stadium issue.  

They also called on the council to protect the health and safety of the people occupying Memorial Grove trees, slated to be cut down to make room for the university’s controversial training facility. 

The question of whether to appeal is premature since the judge has not made a final ruling, though the council could decide to settle the case before the decision comes down. 

Acting City Attorney Zach Cowan told the Planet on Tuesday that the council did vote in closed session to write a letter to university officials urging them to allow the tree-sitters adequate food and water, to be supplied by “designated neutral clergy persons.” 

The vote to send the letter was 5-0-2, with Mayor Tom Bates and Councilmember Gordon Wozniak abstaining and councilmembers Betty Olds and Darryl Moore absent. 

“Stand up for Berkeley-stay in the lawsuit,” former Mayor Shirley Dean told the council, expressing the viewpoint of all public speakers, save Irene Hegarty, community relations director for the university. 

Hegarty read the council a letter from UC Vice Chancellor Nathan Brostrom, calling on the city to support the university in its placement of barricades on the eastern city-owned sidewalk along Piedmont Avenue and to call on the judge to resolve the issue quickly 

“We thank you in advance for your willingness to partner with the Berkeley campus towards our mutual goal to protect the safety of members of our community,” the letter said. 

A number of speakers advised the council to appeal the lawsuit if the city were to lose at the trial level, because the structural change the university proposed for the project, the elimination of a support beam, had not gone through appropiate environmental review as required by the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA).  

The university told the court that it would no longer require the beam, which was originally designed to reinforce the west stadium wall while the gym was under construction.  

Without the beam, the sports facility is no longer physically linked to the stadium. 

Because the Hayward fault runs through the stadium, the Alquist-Priolo Act would apply to the project if the beam linked the gym and the stadium, and that would require that the stadium retrofit not exceed half the cost of the stadium.  

Mary Rose Kaczorowsky told the council that since the university project is “changing and morphing,” the university should be required to do a new environmental review. 

Michael Kelly, a member of the Panoramic Hill Association, a co-plaintiff with the city against the UC gym project, added that for more than two years the university has said the beam is important for safety reasons. “Now we hear it is for cosmetic reasons,” he added. 

Some said that another reason the city should appeal an adverse decision is that the university did not adequately study alternative sites as CEQA requires. 

UC Berkeley student Matthew Taylor said the university should have studied Maxwell Field, between the Greek Theater and the stadium, as an alternative. “It was never studied in the environmental report,” Taylor said. 

While the health and safety of those who have been sitting in the trees was not explicitly on the closed door agenda—Councilmember Linda Maio told the Planet it should have been discussed in open session—the public addressed the issue. 

University officials promised to give the tree-sitters 1,000 calories a day, according to tree-sit supporter Gianna Ranuzzi. “Yesterday they said we could bring packaged food,” she told the council, arguing that the people in trees needed fresh fruit and vegetables—“apples and celery,” she said. 

Terry O’Brien said he feared for the life of the tree sitters. Last week, “I saw extreme violence,” he said, referring to UC police and arborists’ interactions with the tree-sitters. The crime of trespassing should not be met with mortal harm, he said. 

“It’s pathetic that the university is trying to starve out these young people,” said Martha Nicoloff. “I think Max [Councilmember Max Anderson] made it clear—these young people are saints.”