SEE YOU IN COURTOn Tuesday the 5th, the University of California Regents approved the Environmental Impact Report for the Memorial Stadium re-model. Construction should begin in January, unless the City of Berkeley and its august elected officials can convince a judge to block the project.
The ostensible reason for the City's lawsuit is that the City is concerned about the safety of building any structure on the Hayward Fault. This is the thinnest of veneers, though. The City can't ignore that the proposed project would improve the seismic stability of Memorial Stadium far beyond the present situation. Further, if the City was so concerned about Memorial's stability, why haven't they previously petitioned the Regents to have the Stadium moved?
So, why oppose the project? There's all sorts of reasons. First, it's a political winner for the entire Council. A small but very noisy group of Berkeley constituents oppose the project for various reasons. Some want to save a grove of oak trees; some don't want the construction noise or the increased traffic implied by hundreds of new parking spots; some are simply professional protesters and attention whores. Mayor Tom Bates owes his 2002 election to the progressive (loony) wing of Berkeley politics, who purged the "moderates" (people who don't own a Che Guevara t-shirt) in that race. Progressives don't care for UC or college football in general.
If UC faculty and students were registered to vote in municipal elections, things might be different, but they're not. No one else in Berkeley gives a flip about Jeff Tedford. So to those Cyberbears and other fans who think the threat of a recall election would get the City to back off on its lawsuit plans, think again. Y'all don't have the votes.
The second reason behind the suit is that the Berkeley City Council has long had an uneasy relationship with the University. Unlike other organizations within the City, UC doesn't need to get the Council's permission to do much of anything. Therefore, the City has no control over the union contracts and other patronage typically attached to big development projects.
Third, and perhaps most important, Berkeley City Government is largely populated by brain-dead socialists who oppose any big project - especially one driven by private money - on purely ideological grounds. They hate the ivory tower sensibilities of UC, and feel it is far too elitist an institution. Nothing could serve as a better symbol of those sensibilities than an enormous remodel of the University's stadium and athletic complex to satisfy the requirements of a head football coach.
There are only two ways to beat the City of Berkeley on this issue. First, bludgeon them with superior legal firepower: the City doesn't have the finances to support lots of outside counsel; the Regents, University and concerned Cal alums almost certainly do. I'm not a lawyer, but the City's case seems to be rather weak and it's reasonable to think that the project will proceed without judicial intervention.
If, however, the City can somehow convince a judge to halt construction with a TRO, the University must cut some sort of deal with the Council to get the project moving. For that reason, it's important that University not inflame the situation by doing things like dragging the protesters out of the trees and sending them back to their parents in suburbia, or calling Tom Bates a newspaper-stealing political hack in public. As satisfying as that would be (and we'd love to have the YouTube of the cleansing of the Oaks), it could harden the ideologues' resolve and complicate any deals.
Right now, though, there's no reason to deal - and no reason to think that work won't begin in January. Roll on you bulldozers....