Key Issue in Stadium Suit Is Safety

Berkeleyans for Cal Advocate Providing Student Athletes with Necessary Training Facility

Sun Yang/Illustration

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Last fall a group of Berkeley citizens came together to support the University of California in its effort to renovate Memorial Stadium and build an athletic training facility to meet the needs of 13 athletic teams. Berkeleyans for Cal was born. This was not a group dedicated to a mindless "my university, right or wrong" principle, but rather a group of concerned taxpayers and supporters of the student athletes. Frustrated by the city of Berkeley's determination to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars to thwart the university's effort to retrofit decaying Memorial Stadium and provide safe training, equipment and meeting rooms for hundreds of student athletes, Berkeleyans for Cal organized, raised funds, attended meetings, wrote letters and tried to dispel the misinformation promoted by the opponents of the university's plan as well as a number of "news" outlets. Despite the university's efforts to negotiate and regardless of the many alterations it was willing to make to its original plan to appease the forces aligned against it, the Berkeley City Council, in closed-door session, voted to sue the university. A projected short trial went on for weeks, and many months of deliberation followed.

Late afternoon on June 18 Judge Barbara Miller made her ruling. While the early headlines had both sides in the issue declaring victory, a more careful reading of the long document suggests that the university will be able to address the few issues in dispute and the athletic high performance center will go forward.

Before the ruling was announced, Mayor Tom Bates addressed the increasingly restive group of tree sitters and their supporters with whom the city became aligned in the lawsuit. He said that both sides had had their day in court and now the decision was at hand. Both sides responded in court to the ruling, and the mayor and the Berkeley City Council will decide whether they want to commit more hundreds of thousands of dollars of city funds to continue the fight.

News coverage to date would suggest that this protracted dispute has been all about a handful of self-styled tree advocates who have occupied a grove of oaks to protect them from the depredations of the university's athletic department. In fact, from the beginning this project has been about safety; the safety of the many sports teams' athletes who will use the proposed facility and the safety of the community that attends games in Memorial Stadium. Mayor Bates has said that safety has been the city's overriding concern. Let's hope that is the case, and he is willing to live by those words. When Judge Miller hears more arguments and the university addresses the few concerns remaining, the city must not commit more time and resources to mount an appeal. The 18-month delay has been, for both sides, a costly ordeal.

Students at Cal, alumni groups and citizen groups have tried to make their voices heard amid the din of the tree-sitters' circus. They want to support the training center, they want to attend football games in a safe stadium and they want their university to go about the business of managing a prestigious, world-renowned educational institution.

Despite this current dramatic conflict between the university and the city, the two institutions are inextricably bound. What benefits one is not necessarily disadvantageous to the other. In fact, there is no clear reason to think they cannot work together to their mutual advantage. But it is clear that continuing this rancor advantages no one.

Berkeleyans for Cal was born to support the need for student athletes at Cal to have safe, clean training facilities. Once that goal is accomplished, this group plans to continue to participate in civic issues where the viewpoints of ordinary citizens seem to have been overlooked or drowned out by the noise of a very vocal minority. What began as a group of a couple dozen has grown to a couple of hundred and continues to grow.

Sandy Bails and Leo Gaspardone are members of Berkeleyans for Cal and UC Berkeley alumni. Reply to [email protected]

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