Battle Over LBNL Computer Center Heads for Key Court Hearing

By Richard Brenneman
Thursday July 09, 2009 - 09:40:00 AM

The battle over construction of a new computer facility at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory may hinge on a single issue: whether or not it’s a federal project. 

U.S. District Judge William Alsup is scheduled to rule July 30 on two competing summary judgment motions, with each side calling on him to rule for their arguments before the case ever comes to trial.  

At issue is the future of the Computational Research and Theory Building, slated for construction on a sloping stretch of hillside near the lab’s western borders close to Blackberry Gate. 

Attorney Michael Lozeau, who represents the group, has argued that the lab breached federal law by not preparing a federal environmental review under the provisions of the National Environmental Protection Act (NEPA). 

Named as defendants are LBNL, the UC Board of Regents and the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE). 

The regents approved the building and an environmental review conducted under the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) after hearings in which lab officials told Berkeley residents the building was needed to house the DOE’s high-speed, high-tech computer network.  

On the face of it, the arguments would seem to lie with the plaintiffs, Save Strawberry Canyon, a coalition of environmentalists who oppose lab expansion in an area they contend is environmentally sensitive. 

During a hearing conducted for the CEQA review, lab officials repeatedly said relocating the DOE’s National Energy Research Scientific Computing Center from its current location in a former bank building in downtown Oakland is a major reason for building the CRT facility.  

The feds changed their tune two months before regents approved project financing and the EIR on May 27, 2008, issuing a memorandum which stated that while the DOE professes “great interest” in relocating to the CRT, they had “made clear that DOE was not making any present commitment,” according to the proposal the regents approved. 

Then-LBNL Director Steven Chu became President Obama’s secretary of energy eight months later. 

Acting Assistant Attorney General John C. Cruden and two assistants from the U.S. Department of Justice’s Environment and Natural Resources Division are representing the DOE in the litigation. 

Oakland attorneys John Lynn Smith, Dennis Peter Maio and Rose L. Standifer have represented the regents. 

The hearing is scheduled for 8 a.m. on Thursday, July 30, on the 19th floor of the federal court building in San Francisco.