Both Sides Claim Victory as Judge Issues Stadium Ruling
Thursday, June 19, 2008
Category: News > City > Courts
The long-awaited ruling regarding the fate of UC Berkeley's proposed athletic center near Memorial Stadium was released Wednesday, and both plaintiffs and defendants are declaring victory.
Alameda County Superior Court Judge Barbara J. Miller did not lift the injunction prohibiting the university from beginning construction at the oak grove in her 129-page ruling. But she states in the ruling that minus a few exceptions, the university's environmental impact report is in compliance with state environmental laws.
Miller said the campus' proposed plans do not fully comply with either the Alquist-Priolo Earthquake Fault Zoning Act or the California Environmental Quality Act, but that she will allow the university to bring the plans into compliance and resubmit them.
While both sides have claimed victory in the case, some said there does not seem to be a clear-cut winner.
"It looks like there are some things that the city won, and some things that the university won," said Berkeley Mayor Tom Bates. "We haven't really had a chance to decipher what it means."
The ruling states that the UC Board of Regents and their development projects are subject to Alquist-Priolo's requirements. The university had previously tried to argue that it was not regulated by the act.
Miller ruled that the proposed
athletic center as a whole does not violate Alquist-Priolo because it will be a separate building and not an overall addition or alteration to Memorial Stadium, which sits on the Hayward Fault.
However, Miller also ruled that some of the elements of the construction constitute alterations to the stadium, making it necessary for the campus to determine the monetary values of both the alterations and the stadium itself in order to be fully in compliance with Alquist-Priolo.
Alquist-Priolo stipulates that additions or alterations to buildings on active earthquake faults, such as Memorial Stadium, may not exceed 50 percent of the value of the existing structure.
Dan Mogulof, campus executive director of public affairs, said that since the campus estimates the value of Memorial Stadium to be approximately $600 million, the cost for any alterations to the stadium cannot exceed $300 million. Even if Miller found the entire athletic center to be an extension of Memorial Stadium, campus officials said they believe the cost of the center is well under the limit.
The rough cost of the athletic center is currently estimated as $123 million. The project is being funded entirely through private donations, $105 million of which have been collected.
As of the most recent construction plans, only a single aspect is currently of concern. The campus cited the Alquist-Priolo compliance issue as minor.
But some opponents said the proposed plan has many of worrying aspects.
"In overview, the university has to go back to the drawing board at some level," said Michael Kelly, Panoramic Hill Association's vice president for UC relations. "This project has serious flaws."
Miller also determined that based on seismic and geological surveys of the site, the athletic center site does not lie on an active fault line. The plaintiffs had argued that the site of the athletic facility was on an active fault line because Alquist-Priolo forbids the construction of new buildings over an active fault.
Campus officials said the ruling is a major victory for the project.
"We are very pleased that the judge concluded that state seismic law will allow the student athlete high performance center to be built on this site. This is a major victory for our students," said Nathan Brostrom, vice chancellor of administration.
Mogulof said Miller ultimately ruled in the campus' favor.
"The reason we're claiming victory with respect to both CEQA claims and the Alquist-Priolo claims is that I read the ... opinion and on every single issue except for two very minor technical issues, the judge has rejected the arguments made by the petitioners and ruled in favor of the university," Mogulof said.
Members of the California Oak Foundation said they do not oppose the construction of an athletic center, but are opposed to the potential destruction of half of the trees at the site of the oak grove.
"The cost of cutting down the trees, as far as climate change and wildlife habitat and just general cultural and aesthetic value, those are things that we care about," said Janet Cobb, president of the foundation. "It just seems like an athletic center could be put somewhere else."
Campus officials said the stadium plan calls for 44 trees to be cut down, including 26 coast live oak trees.
Tree-sit supporters said they are victorious because an injunction that halts alterations to the grove has not been lifted.
"I would like to say most of all the children won today," said unofficial protest leader Zachary RunningWolf, after the ruling was announced.
But campus officials said that if Miller lifts the injunction after campus officials revise the stadium plan, they would be ready to begin construction of the center almost immediately.
"We'll do it as soon as the legal coast is clear," Mogulof said.
Representatives of the California Oak Foundation said Miller's decision speaks to what they said is the campus' sense of entitlement.
"This is a day of reckoning, this is a day for which the university will be held account," said Stephen Volker, the attorney representing the California Oak Foundation.
Volker said that if the university chose to appeal the court's decision, the foundation would also request an appeal with a higher court.
Campus officials said they are pleased Miller will retain jurisdiction of the case.
"We will attempt to work with Judge Miller to address her concerns and attempt to do that as quickly as possible," Mogulof said.
Valerie Woolard of The Daily Californian contributed to this report.
A copy of Alameda County Superior Court Judge Barbara J. Miller's June 18 ruling may be found by clicking here.
Contact Angelica Dongallo and Jacqueline Johnston at [email protected]
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