Public Comment

UC Hubris

By Stewart Emmington-Jones
Thursday July 16, 2009 - 10:46:00 AM

Last Friday’s Berkeley Voice front-page article and picture flaunting the decimated oak grove and construction at the Memorial Stadium site really hurt. The picture in particular stung; it showed the cavernous pit dug along the west wall of the stadium where a year ago a grove of California oaks graced the stadium and historic Piedmont Way. Despite the personal pain it causes me, the controversy surrounding the oak grove demolition and the many remaining questions regarding the $100 million retrofit of a stadium sitting directly on the Hayward fault line are still of critical importance to the state-wide community and need to be talked about and explored by the media. Unfortunately the Voice’s article felt more like a UC press release than an investigative piece that could have explored ongoing concerns and responsibilities.  

The real issue for the university at this moment should be financial responsibility: where is the money coming from and how is its use justified? Right now the state is axing money for public education and that includes the UC system. On the University of California’s website it claims “the universities immediate state budget challenge” to be $450 million. In addition, the governor has proposed overall state funding cuts to the university of 25 percent spanning the next two years from the more than $3 billion yearly budget the UC system already receives. 

All this shortfall of money must put the UC system in a serious financial bind. The controversial 9.3 percent student fee raise will only cover part of the states funding cuts. Indeed, already the regents have cut pay for some faculty and staff. However, does the university continue cutting enrollment courses and services in order to make up for the remaining shortfall? Or, perhaps the best idea for the university is to put a freeze to frivolous $153 million developments like a High Performance Sports Facility (serving only a select few athletes, not the student body as a whole) being built on the oak grove site adjacent to the stadium. 

If the university truly cared about its “mission” as an institution of intellectual advancement it seems irresponsible during the current state wide financial crisis to dump more than a $100 million into a gym. Such arrogant behavior explains State Senator Leeland Yee’s campaign to curtail the Regent’s hubris and abuse of power.  

The elephant-in-the-room is the stadium and the fault line. The university claimed in 2008 that the value of the stadium is $593-million. According to the Alquist-Priola Act, all renovations and alterations to a state-owned building on a fault line must cost less than the appraised value of the building. Therefore, the university claims it can legally retrofit the stadium for less than $300-million. Where is all that money to come from in times like these? 

According to the Voice’s article there are three thousand private seats to be purchased between $40,000 and $225,000 of which the university claims to have sold 70 percent. During times of State IOUs and University cuts, is this an appropriate focus for fundraising? The article also pointed out that there are rooms in the Haas Pavillion which cost $500 million that are used specifically for fundraising for the stadium!  

It is difficult to believe the university PR that the sale alone of luxury seats will finance the expensive retrofit. Indeed, what the public has not been told is: the real source of future financing is based upon the stadium becoming a sports entertainment complex. In order to pay for itself the stadium, by necessity, will morph into a year-round commercial enterprise. 

Furthermore, is it even possible for any building to be safe when it is directly above an active fault line? Anybody who thinks this is not an important issue should remember the 1989 World Series and ensuing earthquake—and that was a gentle earthquake compared to what is expected on the Hayward Fault sometime soon. 

Finally, it is important to remember that Phase 1 of the retrofit plan for the stadium included the construction of the High Performance Sports Facility and originally planned to include a grade beam deemed necessary for the earthquake safety of both buildings. Superior Court Judge Miller, who ruled in favor of the university in the highly publicized case, first said that the university was in violation of the Alquist-Priola Act as long as this beam existed. Despite the university’s strong arguments during the litigation that the beam was a necessary safety precaution; when given the option by Judge Miller of removing the grade beam from the plan and moving forward on the project the university jumped through this small legal window summarily removing the beam and got the green light to proceed with a potentially unsafe project. 

The bravado of the university’s claims to a morale victory in the Voice, on KQED, and Cal neighbors, etc., with a new season of “Go Bears! in the historic Memorial Stadium” rings hollow. If the mainstream media does not serve the public interest in asking questions that are of growing state-wide significance, we can at least thank those who are courageous enough to carry the troubling questions surrounding the UC Memorial Stadium project forward to the state Appellate Court.  


Stewart Emmington-Jones makes  

T-shirts for Save Strawberry Canyon.