U.C. Berkeley Puts Beans in Its Ears Again

Becky O'Malley
Thursday November 09, 2017 - 02:52:00 PM

It’s either the good news or the bad news that if you’ve been around as long as I have you get to say “I told you so” more and more often.

The good news is that it’s satisfying to find out that you’ve been right all along.

The bad news is how long it takes for being right to make a difference in what happens—and sometimes it turns out to be never. 

The first time I remember being right as an almost-adult was in May of 1960, when I joined a bunch of my fellow Cal students and others to protest the House Un-American Activities Committee. Yes, granddaughters, there was such a thing, and they witch-hunted a whole lot of patriotic Americans, including family members of some of my friends, for being some flavor of leftist. Even then critics of the committee were multiplying, but the final nail wasn’t put in its coffin for 15 years. 

I was prematurely right again in 1964 in Ann Arbor, when we started organizing against a war which was underway in Vietnam, a place no one had even heard of, and it was more than a decade before public opinion and ultimately Richard Nixon got the word. 

Lots more happened in between of more or less importance. Recently there’s been an “I told you so” moment which is of lesser importance but even greater annoyance. 

It turns out (who knew?) that the hugely expensive transmogrification of the football stadium at Cal (oh, excuse me, U. C. Berkeley) is a giant bust. For the gory details, read Nanette Asimov’s coverage in the Chronicle. 

Money quote: 

“The deal commits a vast amount of UC Berkeley’s future academic revenue to a nonacademic purpose: stadium debt. . . Cal unveiled its rebuilt and earthquake-retrofitted Memorial Stadium and brand-new Simpson Training Center in September 2012. Total debt on the complex is $438 million — a figure the athletics department doesn’t expect to pay off for more than a century.” 

And why would that be? Well, in the first place, it seems that no one really cares that much about football any more, it turns out. Or at least the fancy-schmancy premium seats are not selling. 

But even more than that, if you choose to make at least an attempt to retrofit an old edifice smack-dab on top of an active fault, it costs a whole lot, and even then the results are considered dicey by many. 

We told you and we told you and we told you that the project was a very bad idea. 

A google search on the words “Memorial Stadium” in the Berkeley Daily Planet archives from about 2007 and on yields more than 1600 hits, of which at least half, from stories by Planet reporters Richard Brenneman and Riya Bhattacharjee and many op-ed writers, document the community opposition to this no good, very bad, misbegotten boondoggle. 

Here’s a sample of my own snarky comments early in the discussion: UC Berkeley Continues to Embarrass Its Graduates. And it only got worse. 

Riya did a nice job of summing up the claims made on UC’s behalf in 2010, when a lawsuit by beleaguered neighbors settled out of court: 

“The UC Regents approved $321 million for the 87-year-old Memorial Stadium renovation and retrofit in January which is expected to be completed by the beginning of the 2012 football season. 

“Seventy percent of construction costs are directly tied to retrofitting and code compliance. 

“Mogulof said that the project will be funded mainly by sales of long-term rights to 3,000 of the approximately 60,000 seats in the renovated stadium. 

“This is being done through the university’s Endowment Seating Program, he said, acknowledging that it is something more common in professional football stadiums.” 

Dream on, Mr. Mogulof. That’s the thinking that got us where we are today. 

(Yes, that’s the very same Dan Mogulof, the flack who continues to make unfull-fillable promises on behalf of the corporate university which employs him.) 

It’s all right there in the Planet archives. 

The whole affair puts me in mind of an old ditty I used to sing to my kids: My Mommy Said Not to Put Beans in My Ears. At least the kids paid me some mind. Too bad U.C. Berkeley didn’t listen when we told them they were making a big mistake with the stupid stadium