Friday, December 08, 2006


On 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.

Forced conviviality

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....


At 1:20 PM, Blogger T. said...

Gaah. Just as my conservative friends hate the fact that Ann Coulter and Dubya represent "conservatives" nowadays - even as a proud Cal grad and proud liberal - I hate the way the left is represented by attention seeking loons and morons.

I know I'm preaching the converted, but the Live Oak is not endangered! Even my best friend who is granola as all get out, is a Cal Conservation and Resources Studies grad, doesn't drive, is a veggie, etc etc doesn't think their environmental arguement has merit.

These people should remember that without the University, they'd be living in El Cerrito. (No offense to El Cerrito which has brought us the fine music of Creedance Clearwater Revival and had the cloest Nation's when I was a student).

Even worse, they've become the tools (in more ways than one) of the wealthy living in the Berkeley hills. Shouldn't they be at odds - Mr. Runningwolf and the wealthy?

I never celebrate when trees are torn down, but I will when ground is broken on the Athletic Center.

At 3:05 PM, Blogger Pete Morris said...

Take off that Red Herring!

While I realize it's probably all just legal and political maneuvering, I sure hope nobody--and certainly not some judge--buys this garbage about needing another site in the name of seismic safety. Yes, the surface trace of the Hayward fault runs through Memorial, but faults are not lines on a map; they're complex, 3-dimensional fractures that run deep underground. Guess what: Berkeley City Hall sits on top of the fault no less than Memorial. And didn't the 1989 'quake teach everyone that being located on top of a fault--or even on top of the focus of a quake (i.e., the epicenter)--is overrated. Being dozens of miles away from Loma Prieta certainly didn't save the Marina District or Cypress Structure.

If promoting public safety is our top concern, then the only answer is to proceed with the UC's current plan as quickly as possible. And definitely build the Performance Center first, retrofit the Stadium second. The odds of a major quake occurring along the Hayward fault may be close to 100%, but the odds of that quake happening on a rare fall Saturday afternoon/evening when the stadium is full are pretty slim indeed.

As for the oaks, calling them a "native ecosystem" is absurd. Those trees were planted as a part of the original stadium project in 1923, and the "natural" landscape of the Berkeley hills was in fact virtually barren of trees entirely. The urban forest growing today is very much a 20th-century creation. Now, that doesn't mean those trees don't fulfill some ecological and landscaping function, but let's not label them "native" or "natural" and thus imply they are somehow "off limits" to human manipulation.

While I certainly count myself among the UC's supporters on this issue, there are nonetheless a number of very genuine planning-and-conservation concerns--not the least of which is saving the view from Tightwad Hill. To the end of better understanding where more reasonable objections to the stadium project as currently designed might come from, check out the following perspectives from the Berkeley Architectural Heritage Association. Their objections are at least better reasoned than what we're getting from the idiots sitting up in the trees.

At 10:07 PM, Blogger Whohah said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

At 10:09 PM, Blogger Whohah said...

Problem with the "bulldoze 'em all and let God sort 'em out" argument.

It USUALLY works, but even the tiniest lawsuit based around problems with the Environmental Impact Report (Google search that term and "lawsuit" and see how many hits you get) can result in a significantly delayed project.

California's CEQA laws demand that an EIR must account for all number of wacky things. If, say, traffic congestion was not adequately accounted for, the lawsuit would force a completed EIR to be updated with newer information.

As an employee of the Governor's office who actually has to deal with such EIR-based problems, an even halfway-decent attorney with a dedicated cadre of wingnuts could halt a project for a good, long time. See: UC Merced, Wal-Mart Supercenters, any freeway construction anywhere in the state, etc.

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