Stadium Construction Triggers Complaints

Photo: A public hearing on Memorial Stadium construction was held at Unit 1 on Thursday.
Shirin Ghaffary/Staff
A public hearing on Memorial Stadium construction was held at Unit 1 on Thursday.

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Analysis: Memorial Stadium Construction

University News Editor Emma Anderson speaks with Alisha Azevedo about ongoing concerns about the construction at Memorial Stadium.

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UC Berkeley junior Alva Gardner has been going without sleep recently. As she hears jackhammers and saws going to work on the renovation of Memorial Stadium and the construction of the Student Athlete High Performance Center beginning each weekday morning at 7 a.m., she must wait for attendants who help her into her wheelchair.

"If construction wakes me up before I have to get up, I'm just awake in bed, and there's nothing that I can do," said Gardner, a resident of the Sherman Hall cooperative, located about 50-feet from the stadium. "My eyes hurt all the time from the dust and from being tired."

With construction work lasting 12 hours each day during the week and 11 hours a day on weekends, UC Berkeley has been receiving increased complaints in recent months about the construction's dust and noise, which neighbors say have a detrimental effect on air quality, health and standards of living.

Because construction plans have changed since 2006 when the UC Board of Regents approved the construction's first Environmental Impact Report, the campus had to draft a second Environmental Impact Report, which was published online Jan. 28 and is open for public comment until March 14.

The new report describes changes such as the installation of permanent field lighting and amplified crowd noise played during football practice at Witter Field, where the football team is practicing temporarily next to the stadium.

After public comment is reviewed, the report will be finalized later in the spring. Neighbors of the stadium came out to a meeting last Thursday night to voice their concerns about stadium construction, which will be considered in reviewing the report.

In addition to construction noise concerns, Christine Shaff, communications director for facilities services, said the campus also received a complaint last week about the brightness of lights shining over Witter Field. New lights are creating increased glare in neighbors' homes and resulting in a lack of ability to sleep, according to Michael Kelly, president of the Panoramic Hill Association.

"This is exactly the kind of thing that creates frustration in the community and a sense of distrust of projections of future impacts," he said at Thursday's meeting. "There's a fundamental disconnect here that needs to be fixed."

Departments that manage the use of Witter Field will meet this week to address lighting brightness and the noise of athletes practicing, according to Jennifer McDougall, principal planner for physical and environmental planning for the campus.

Members of the Davis House and Sherman Hall cooperatives have also expressed discontent with the construction. Berkeley Student Cooperative Executive Director Jan Stokley sent a letter Jan. 24 to Shaff requesting a meeting to discuss respiratory illness complaints from 12 members of Sherman Hall, which was held Feb. 8 to discuss requests including postponing the use of heavy machinery until after 9 a.m., providing independent air monitoring services and purchasing 28 air purifiers to be placed throughout Sherman.

Since January, five of Sherman's 37 residents have expressed plans to move out because of the construction and one has signed a contract to transfer to another co-op, said Frances Lu, house manager for Sherman Hall.

"Right now, we feel as if it's our obligation to prove that there's a significant impact and that the university should be concerned with this," she said. "The messages that we've been getting don't seem to reflect that we, as students, are a priority to the university."

Lu added that the amount of visible dust in the house has increased, and that the most physically active members of the house have been the most likely to experience respiratory difficulties.

So far, none of the requests from Sherman's residents to improve conditions have been fully met, Lu said.

However, Shaff said the campus needs to continue looking at the concerns of the house more closely before moving forward with requests.

"We have absolutely followed up on all of their concerns," she said. "We have provided them with information about air monitoring and about how it's gone so far, and we need to continue to see what kind of monitoring needs to happen."

The Berkeley Student Cooperative cabinet and board of directors are currently looking into using internal funding to purchase air purifiers and hire independent air monitors, according to Alex Ghenis, vice president of external affairs for the cooperative.

"We recognize that the university is in a time crunch to finish this project, but there are reasonable things they can do to stay within their timeline and still protect the health and the studious environment of the members of Sherman Hall," Ghenis said.


Alisha Azevedo covers academics and administration. Contact her at [email protected]

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