Public Comment

Commentary: Why the City Should Not Back Down

By Janice Thomas
Thursday August 07, 2008 - 12:31:00 PM

Although the focus in the court room and the press has been on the significance of a beautiful stand of coastal live oaks west of Memorial Stadium, lawsuits filed by the City of Berkeley and the Panoramic Hill Association have, from day one, also been directed toward public safety and quality of life (traffic) impacts from the entirety of projects officially named the Southeast Campus Integrated Projects (SCIP).  

Not just a training center and office complex, the proposed SCIP development has included, and still includes, the stadium retrofit and renovation, a 911 vehicle underground parking structure, a new building between the law school and business school, and other changes to the area. Squeezing in 400,000 additional gross square feet of development and adding seven capacity events (62,000 people multiplied by seven events equals 434,000 people) at this hazardous, poorly accessed location is also part of the project description.  

Not only does the active Hayward Fault run the length of the stadium; and not only is the stadium subject to liquefaction by being built on fill—adding to the seismic hazards list, the fault also cuts through one of the few north-south arterial thoroughfares—Gayley Road—at the base of the wildfire-prone Berkeley hills.  

In other words, the lawsuits have not just been about the athletic training center and office complex, but about impacts from seven projects which together constitute the Southeast Campus Integrated Projects, so named by the university itself. Now, it seems, ironically enough, the judge has ruled that the projects are separate enough that the university can go ahead with Phase One of their three phase project and build the Student Athletic High Performance Center.  

Defying common sense, or at least at odds with an “integrated” approach to planning the various SCIP projects, the judge ruled that the university does not need to determine if renovating and retrofitting the stadium is even feasible. In other words, it is OK for the university to go ahead and build the athletic center even though there is no proof or evidence that the stadium can be retrofitted and renovated while complying with the Alquist-Priolo Earthquake Fault Hazard Zoning Act.  

The stadium is clearly and unequivocally divided from end to end by the Hayward Fault. Thus, it will be subject to the earthquake law in ways that the athletic training center—located just shy of the fault zone—was not.  

In this metric, it is not just that people want the stadium to be retrofitted before the fancy athletic center is built. They want to know if it is even possible to retrofit the stadium before the athletic center is built. If it is not, then the project objectives are not met. If it is not, there is no reason for building the athletic center anywhere near the stadium and especially no practical justification for destroying an oak grove.  

Still ahead in Phase 2 is the battle over the valuation of the stadium. Per earthquake fault zoning law, if “alterations or additions” exceed 50 percent the valuation of the stadium, the project would not be in compliance with Alquist-Priolo.  

Already UC development allies and some sports fans are positioning for the next phase of the stadium battle. For one, the university has made an offer to the city contingent on the city’s decision “not to file an appeal to the current litigation and not to file any future legal challenge to the Memorial Stadium project.” The offer is hardly worth giving up the city’s legal standing. 

The offer includes planting “three trees for every one removed,” which would probably be done under any circumstances. The university also offers to conduct a review of alternative parking lots, which seems disingenuous at best: The $10,000 per parking space cost of building a four-level underground parking lot near, if not on top of, the Hayward Fault would probably not pencil out. There is nothing in this offer which should compel the city to back off. 

In the background, hard core Bear Backers are trying to figure out ways to do an end-run around the pesky earthquake law. Among these schemes is to get the state Legislature to change the law so as to exempt Memorial Stadium from Alquist-Priolo. (http://mbd.scout.com/mb.aspx?s=166&f=1419&t=2661510&p=1) 

For good reason, the university does not want the city to appeal and would like for other plaintiffs to back off too. Hence, the offer.  

The university not only uses carrots to persuade their foes but also sticks. Trying to dissuade the remaining plaintiffs from appealing the project, the plaintiffs might be required to post a prohibitively expensive bond ($28 million) to pay the costs of delaying the project. Without the city’s involvement, the university may fell the other plaintiffs just as surely as they plan to fell the trees.  

In the meantime, nervous but undaunted, the Panoramic Hill Association and California Oak Foundation appeals are going forward. The city could also stay the course and protect its investment. They still have time to file. As land use attorney Antonio Rossman wrote in a July 25 letter to the Daily Planet, “You don’t bring a case like this without expecting that your victory will need to come on appeal.” I remain hopeful the city will come to their senses.  

 

Janice Thomas is a Panoramic Hill resident and co-founder of Save Strawberry Canyon.