Additions to Stadium Plan Disputed

Photo: Memorial Stadium renovation plans have been a source of dispute due to recent changes that were approved by the UC Regents in December.
UC Berkeley/Courtesy
Memorial Stadium renovation plans have been a source of dispute due to recent changes that were approved by the UC Regents in December.

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Controversy continues to plague renovations of UC Berkeley's Memorial Stadium as community members and the campus await a hearing to address yet another lawsuit challenging the project.

Local groups Stand Up for Berkeley! and the Council of Neighborhood Associations filed a lawsuit Feb. 22 against the UC Board of Regents to challenge the legality of recent changes to the building project. The lawsuit follows in the wake of a recent settlement between the campus and the Panoramic Hill Association, which filed a lawsuit in 2006 questioning the safety of seismic retrofits to the stadium and the construction of the Student-Athlete High Performance Center.

A hearing date in Alameda County Superior Court has not yet been set.

Citing current standards set by the California Environmental Quality Act, the plaintiffs in the new suit claim that the regents "erroneously utilized and approved" an addendum in December that allowed UC Berkeley to add new features to the project, including raising the current press box in the stadium by three feet, lowering the stadium play field by two feet, building a "possible" 15,000 square-foot servicing and ticketing facility and building a parking structure located next to Maxwell Family Field, which campus spokesperson Dan Mogulof said in an e-mail would accommodate 546 vehicles.

The plaintiffs also claim that the campus was "erroneously" granted an exemption from the Alquist-Priolo Earthquake Fault Zoning Act, which prohibits certain additions and modifications from being made to structures, such as the stadium, that are located on earthquake faults.

Per legislation recently signed by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, any structure owned and operated by state entities or agencies that is listed on the California Register of Historical Resources or the National Register of Historical Places is exempt from the act, Mogulof said in an e-mail.

"The legislation in no way changes the act's existing prohibition against building new structures across the trace of an active fault," Mogulof said in an e-mail. "Memorial Stadium is an historic building, and the proposed retrofit will protect it and its occupants not only from the hazard of surface fault rupture, but also from ground shaking."

Nigel Guest, a member of Stand Up for Berkeley! who lives near the stadium, said the addendum contains "major alterations" to the project. The regents, he said, should be required to make the changes available for public commentary so residents will have an understanding of exactly how their neighborhoods will be impacted.

"Speed is the main concern with this project, but there is no way these changes can be processed without public comment," Guest said. "An addendum is a legal document that only cites minor changes, and these changes are major, making the addendum illegal."

Mogulof said in an e-mail that the campus "completely and fully complied with the letter and spirit of the act," and campus officials are confident that the changes to the stadium project analyzed in the addendum are not substantial.

Berkeley City Councilmember Jesse Arreguin said the additions could be perceived as an expansion of physical space, thus changing the original evaluation of the project.

"One aspect of this project is good, and that is that the campus is going to seismically fix the stadium, but it's not just a renovation-the scope of work is far beyond that," said Arreguin, who added that he had tried to have the city join the lawsuit. "The campus has really covered its bases by introducing the Alquist-Priolo exemption."

The campus was exempt from the act after a local government committee passed an omnibus bill in October, which Schwarzenegger approved in November. Historically, the bill is only used to adopt non-controversial changes to local government law, allowing any state agency or individual to submit requests for changes.

Lesley Emmington, a member of Stand Up for Berkeley!, said the campus faces a "responsibility scandal" if it does not disclose the environmental impacts of planned uses of the stadium.

"This may be their Achilles heel," she said. "Money could be lost from stalling the projects to inform the community. The campus misrepresented what was really going on with the project, which might be the only reason why the committee let the exemption go through."

UC Senior Legislative Director Happy Chastain, who filed the request for the exemption that was granted in the bill, declined to comment.

The campus is "confident" that the Legislature acted appropriately in enacting the campus's exemption from the act and that the amendment will withstand legal scrutiny, Mogulof said in an e-mail.

Plaintiffs also question the campus's reasoning behind the additions to the project, stating they believe the campus has a "direct economic interest" in the approval of the project, according to the suit.

"It's as much a fundraising addition as a retrofitting project," Emmington said. "It's not just about football games anymore. It's about the ability to adjust and provide commercial needs for whatever you need."

The $321 million budget for the project includes all the "minor" changes in the addendum, in addition to stating the project was not for monetary gain, said Mogulof in an e-mail. According to the e-mail, the project was for implementing an array of seismic improvements that would ensure safety and address the needs of the stadium's patrons for modern, accessible services, facilities and amenities.

"The plaintiffs' claim that we are retrofitting the stadium 'to increase revenues by maximizing the usage of the stadium' is entirely unsubstantiated and simply not true," he said in an e-mail.

Emma Anderson of The Daily Californian contributed to this report.

Tags: ALQUIST-PRIOLO EARTHQUAKE FAULT ZONING ACT, ALAMEDA COUNTY SUPERIOR COURT, MEMORIAL STADIUM, STAND UP FOR BERKELEY!, COUNCIL OF NEIGHBORHOOD ASSOCIATIONS


Contact Katie Nelson at [email protected]



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