Flash: Mayor Reveals New UC Letter to Angry Audience at Post-Meeting Press Conference

By Riya Bhattacharjee
Friday July 25, 2008 - 09:39:00 AM

Boos and hisses filled the Berkeley City Council chambers Thursday night when Mayor Tom Bates announced that the council had decided not to appeal Judge Barbara Miller's decision on the UC Memorial Stadium lawsuit. The mayor revealed, after a council meeting which was closed to the public, that councilmembers had discussed a letter from the university's Vice Chancellor Nathan Brostrom on Thursday afternoon.  

Members of the public who spoke in the public comment period which preceded the session did not know about the letter. 

Bates added that the council had 58 days to file an appeal. 

"Shame on you," cried out several supporters of the tree-sitters. 

"Shame, Shame, Shame," chanted a few others in unison. 

"Is this your legacy? Is this your legacy?" asked a young girl from the middle row. 

As the council members prepared to leave the chambers, Ayr, who has been providing ground support to the tree-sitters for almost two years cried out: "How did you vote?" 

"We are not allowed to tell the public how we voted," Councilmember Kriss Worthington replied. 

Speaking to reporters inside the City Hall later, Worthington declined to say how he voted. 

"If five people had voted in favor of an appeal then we would have come out and announced that the city had decided to appeal," he said. 

"Now we will be in limbo for 58 days … I have said repeatedly that the city has invested hundreds of thousands of dollars on this. For a tiny bit more the city can preserve that bit of land." 

Worthington said the City Council could vote on whether to file an appeal when it returned from summer break on Sept. 28 or at a special meeting before that. 

Bates told reporters at a press conference after the announcement that the council had been unable to get five votes to appeal the judge's decision. 

The nine-member City Council had only seven members at Thursday's closed session meeting because councilmember Dona Spring—who died earlier this month—will not be replaced till November and Councilmember Betty Olds was absent. 

"Do you think something is going to happen in the next 58 days?" asked a reporter. 

"Possibly, it will cost us very little to appeal," Bates said. 

Bates added that city and the council had received assurance from UC Berkeley about changes that were made to the Memorial Stadium project in a letter from university Vice Chancellor Nathan Brostrom Thursday afternoon. 

Answering reporter's questions about whether the letter from the university meant an appeal was unlikely, the mayor replied that the city would need to hear from the university on a number of issues first. 

"The language needs to be more precise," he said, holding the letter. 

"The language on the parking is vague. Also the Panoramic Hill residents are concerned about noise." 

In his letter, Brostrom wrote that parking, which is required for staff and faculty who worked in the southeast campus and visitors to the Optometry Clinic, would be displaced as the SCIP projects moved forward. 

He added that although the city and UC Berkeley had agreed to a specific number of additional parking spaces in the 2020 Long Range Development Plan settlement agreement, the university had agreed to conduct a comprehensive review of alternatives, including exploring possibilities for developing, funding and/or sharing parking with the city on the west side of the campus and downtown, before it developed new parking on the east side. 

"In any event, we will not develop additional parking as part of the SCIP projects until completion of Phase II of Memorial Stadium," Brostrom's letter said. 

Brostrom also reminded the council of numerous changes the university had made to the stadium project, and the subsequent phases of the stadium renovation to address the city and the community's concerns over the course of the lawsuit. 

The list of changes included a construction and financing strategy which would accelerate the renovation and seismic retrofit of the Memorial Stadium by over 18 months. 

Under this plan, the construction of the second phase would overlap with the construction of the Student-Athletic High Performance Center which would lead to its completion by the 2012 football season, the letter said. 

"This approach would impose additional costs, because of the need for surge space for Stadium occupants for an extended period, but we believe that our financing plan—which solely utilizes private dollars—can accommodate these increased costs," the letter stated. 

The list also included the university's promise to plant three trees for every tree removed from the areas around the stadium, removal of seven "additional capacity" events from the stadium and to work with residents of Panoramic Hill to minimize the effects of the university's programs in and around the stadium. 

The university, according to the letter, would also work with Panoramic Hill representatives to create an emergency access to Panoramic Hill during football games. 

At the end of the letter, Brostrom said the university had adopted these positions in response to concerns from neighbors and the City of Berkeley and that the changes continued "to hold in the face of the judge's decision in the case, contingent on the city's agreement not to file an appeal to the current litigation and not to file any future legal challenge to the Memorial Stadium project." 

The university, Brostrom said, believed it was "time to end the cost and adversarial relationship inherent in these legal proceedings" and redirect its efforts towards "working together in the best interests" of the community. 

"We are not getting involved with the other two groups in their appeals to the lawsuit," Bates said. 

The Panoramic Hills Association and Save the Oaks at the Stadium, who were both plaintiffs in the stadium lawsuit, appealed the judge's decision Thursday afternoon. 

"We are reserving our right to appeal," Bates said, 

"The cost of the appeal is an issue, but we have spent a lot of money in the past, and relative to that this is not a lot." 

An appeal would cost the city around $25,000 to $50,000, Bates said. 

"It's an important lawsuit," he said. "It's been going on for 18 months and has cost the university a lot of money. Maybe the next time we can resolve the issue in a better way." 

Jerry Wachtel, former president of the Panoramic Hills Association, said he was stunned by the city's decision. 

"I am stunned but I am not surprised," he said, 

"Maybe no decision is better than a negative decision. But it certainly makes our task more difficult." 

Wachtel said that apart from the appeal, the group had also filed a motion with the judge to vacate the decision and asked her for a new trial. 

The injunction issued by the court which stops the university from cutting down the oaks is set to expire Tuesday.