Public Comment

A New Challenge to Stadium Project

by Nigel Guest
Wednesday March 10, 2010 - 06:45:00 PM

An open letter to Mayor Bates and City Council Members: We note with interest that UC Berkeley’s Vice-Chancellor wrote you on December 14, 2009, addressing what we believe to be an unconstitutional exemption that UC has recently obtained from California’s premier earthquake protection statute. He stated: ‘The exemption is also consistent with and supportive of Alquist-Priolo's primary purpose: "to provide the citizens of California with increased safety and to minimize the loss of life during and immediately following earthquakes …"’. This is a clear contradiction in terms. An exemption from a safety-related statute cannot be consistent with ensuring public safety. 

Also, the Vice-Chancellor thanked you for supporting “the Campus’s view that the seismic retrofit of the California Memorial Stadium (CMS) is an urgent project for our community.” Firstly, we question whether this does indeed represent the Campus’s view. For example, a month earlier, the Academic Senate had voted overwhelmingly in favor of a reduction in spending on athletics programs. Nonetheless, we would like to emphasize that we, Stand Up For Berkeley !, share the opinion expressed by the Vice-Chancellor. A seismic retrofit of the stadium would be an excellent project. This statement may seem surprising, in view of the fact that we are currently suing the University in order to try and limit some of the work that they are proposing to perform in and around the CMS. However, when you examine the construction program outlined in the Final South-East Campus Integrated Projects (SCIP) EIR, plus the two subsequent Addenda, you will see that very little of the capital spending will be for seismic retrofitting of the CMS. 

In particular: 

- A new gym for athletes, the Student Athletic High-Performance Center, which is being built in place of a grove of mature oak trees. 

- A 911-space parking garage under the existing Maxwell Field. This will undoubtedly be used every day by University staff, and will hugely exacerbate existing traffic problems. This garage appears to be part of an inexplicable trend to increase the amount of UC parking on the East side of campus, which has the worst access, with its narrow and congested roads. 

- A variety of facilities, including a 15,000 square foot structure, to make access easier for football fans using the new parking garage, and improve ticketing and truck (un)loading. 

- Accessibility improvements to the west-side grandstand, with additional “wide concourses”. 

- A complete reconstruction of the existing Witter Field, in Strawberry Canyon. 

- Lowering of the CMS playing field surface by two feet to improve the view of the football games. This will require over three hundred 40-ton dump trucks, which will likely travel on some of the most congested streets in the City. 

- A new, larger, press box. 

- A new sound system. 

- Permanent stadium lighting structures. 

Also, there is an unresolved proposal to hold additional full-capacity, possibly nighttime, events in order to pay for the above projects. This item was removed from the SCIP EIR on narrowly-defined technical grounds, but could easily be reinstated. 

Clearly, none of this work has anything to do with seismic retrofitting, and everything to do with turning the CMS into a huge Sports-Entertainment Complex. This would be reasonable if the CMS were adjacent to a freeway, and isolated from residential neighborhoods, like the Oakland Coliseum is. However, it is not. Access is appalling and road traffic to and from stadium events has a severe impact on neighborhoods throughout the city.  

When you take all of the above into account, you must surely understand why we are deeply disturbed at the Council’s lack of opposition, or outright support for, the University’s plans. The project is far more than a retrofit and far more than a historic restoration. The reconstruction is well in excess of what is appropriate in these difficult financial times, unless of course the long-term strategic plan is to increase revenues by maximizing the usage of the stadium. 

Please step back and stand up - for Berkeley!