Speaking at a June 6 lunchtime forum hosted by the Berkeley Chamber of Commerce Committee on Governmental Affairs at the Chamber’s office, Sam Chapman, Manager for State and Community Relations of the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, offered an informative overview of the Lab’s ongoing search for the site of its second campus that included times and dates of community meetings to be held later this summer.
Chapman’s talk was free and open to the public and attracted about a dozen people, including Berkeley councilmembers Linda Maio and Darryl Moore, City of Berkeley Office of Economic Development Director Michael Caplan, a representative from Assemblywoman Nancy Skinner’s office, Elizabeth Jewel of the public relations firm Aroner, Jewel and Ellis, brothers Michael and Steve Goldin. The Goldins and their partners own property adjacent to Aquatic Park that is one of the six venues shortlisted by the Lab as possible locations for the new campus.
Chapman began by reviewing the Lab’s origins. Founded in 1931, it was the first of the National Laboratories; Lawrence Livermore National Lab, with which LBNL is often confused, was the second. He noted that the Lab is funded by the Department of Energy but managed by UC Berkeley. Like Cal, the Lab reports directly to UC’s Office of the President. Passing over LBNL’s seminal role in developing the atomic bomb, Chapman mentioned two of the institution’s other early achievements: its founder’s invention of the cyclotron and groundbreaking emphasis on scientific teamwork. Today a wide range of unclassified research is undertaken by the Lab’s 4,200 scientists, engineers, support staff and students. Its largest current project is the Carbon Cycle 2.0 Initiative, which studies innovative ways to address climate change.
Focusing on the biosciences, the new campus will consolidate three existing facilities: the Joint BioEnergy Institute—JBei for short—now housed at Emery Station in Emeryvile; the Life Sciences Division, now housed at 717 Potter Street in West Berkeley; and the Joint Genome Institute, now located in Walnut Creek. Unlike the original Lab, the second campus is planned to be unfenced, with security at the building instead of around the perimeter. Chapman spoke of public access to the water and to walking and bike paths.
Chapman noted that 25% of the Lab’s facilities are now housed in leased, off-site space. When asked if LBNL would prefer to own the new venue, he said that would be ideal but was only one consideration among many.
The Lab would also like a site that
· is no more than a twenty-five minute ride from the original campus;
· can accommodate 500,000 square feet of initial development and ultimately 2 million square feet;
· has easy access to transportation to other amenities such as restaurants;
· is clean and has little need of environmental remediation;
· is compatible with surrounding neighborhoods;
· is part of a welcoming community that supports the second campus;
· that’s quiet and not subject to vibration.
Does this last specification refer to earthquakes? I asked. Chapman said, No. What’s problematic is the everyday kind of shaking generated by freeway traffic and passing trains. He emphasized that each of the six sites now under consideration meets the Lab’s various criteria in different ways and to a different extent.
The six finalists are:
· Aquatic Park West in Berkeley, which includes the American Soil site
· Wareham Development’s sites in Emeryville (JBei) and West Berkeley (Life Sciences Division)
· Golden Gate Fields, which straddles Albany and Berkeley
· Brooklyn Basin, on the Oakland Estuary
· Alameda Point, in Alameda
· the Richmond Field Station, in Richmond
All are privately owned except Alameda Point, which belongs to the City of Alameda, and the Richmond Field Station, which UC owns. Alameda has offered to give its property to LBNL.
Between July 6 and August 3 the Lab will hold a series of community meetings—one dedicated to each of the six finalists—at which the respective applicant will make a presentation, and questions will be taken from the public. The meetings for the three sites that are partly or wholly in Berkeley are scheduled as follows:
July 7 Aquatic Park West, Francis Albrier Center in San Pablo Park
July 21 Wareham proposal, Emeryville City Hall
August 3 Golden Gate Fields, Albany Community Center
The meetings will all run from 7 to 9:30 p.m.
LBNL hopes to identify a preferred site by November and to move into the new campus in 2016.
Chapman’s presentation was followed by a Q & A session. Mindful of her constituents’ concerns about buildings towering over Aquatic Park and their homes, Councilmember Maio asked whether the second campus would have a height limit. Chapman said that it depended on how much acreage would be available; the less land, the higher the buildings are likely to go. At twelve acres, the Aquatic Park West site is the smallest of the six finalists; the Richmond Field Station, with its 125 acres, is the largest. Chapman mentioned “five stories, maybe six,” adding that structures could go higher, and that the buildings that now house JBei and the Molecular Foundry are both six stories high.
Confessing to an understandable bias for her own city, Maio called the Aquatic Park West site “a jewel.” A former LBNL staffer, she also expressed concern about the “transit potential” of the second campus. She urged Chapman and his colleagues to “help people see what kinds of community benefits we could realize” from having the Lab locate here. Noting that the LBNL no longer has its own fabrication facilities, Maio said that “a lot of our existing businesses in West Berkeley are already suppliers to the Lab.”
Councilmember Moore enthused that a second campus would bring “a tremendous number of jobs” into our community. But Bett Martinez, a health insurance broker in Albany and Berkeley Chamber member, said she’s been getting calls from people who have just been let go from LBNL and are worried about their insurance. How many new jobs, she asked, would the Lab actually generate?
Chapman’s answer was partly ambiguous. First he said that the Lab was indeed downsizing; then he said it was in an expansion mode. His uncertainty reflects the budgetary game of chicken being played in Washington. But Chapman also made it clear that since the second campus would be consolidating three existing facilities, it would initially generate no new jobs at all. In his words, it’s a zero-sum game.
Perhaps seeking to counter Chapman’s inauspicious employment forecast, Office of Economic Development Director Michael Caplan volunteered that the “total build-out” of the Lab would create lots of construction jobs—something, he said, that was “worth stating at public meetings.” Nobody observed that once the building was done, those jobs would disappear. Caplan also marked “the multiplier effect,” echoing Maio’s remark about local suppliers who would be bidding on materials and products, and adding for his part that “more people [working at the Lab] would be eating at local restaurants.”
Moore also said that people who are concerned by the fact that the second campus will be exempt from property taxes are “shortsighted.” Chapman agreed, citing Salesforce.com’s recent purchase of 14 acres across the street from UCSF’s Mission Bay Medical Center as an example of the kind of growth that the new LBNL campus could generate.
Nobody mentioned that unlike desolate Mission Bay, West Berkeley is almost totally built out, or that the cloud computing company’s acquisition consumed two-thirds of the remaining land in Misson Bay that the City of San Francisco, envisioning the area as a biotech hub, had earmarked for life sciences [http://www.bizjournals.com/sanfrancisco/blog/2010/11/salesforce-could-squeeze-biotech-out.html]. Nor did anyone note that the City of Berkeley, hoping to exploit the biotech boom, is poised to deregulate land use in West Berkeley by stripping away zoning protections for the town’s industrial and artisanal businesses and opening the district up to Emeryville-style lab and office development.