City Threatens Lawsuit Over Underhill Plan

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Construction of a three-story parking structure on the Underhill lot is hardly inevitable as the Berkeley City Council prepares to discuss taking possible legal action against the university.

Despite city opposition, the UC Board of Regents approved the Underhill Area Master Plan, which includes construction of parking spaces and student housing, at their last meeting on Nov. 16. Next week, the council will discuss the possibility of initiating a lawsuit against the university because of the board's decision.

The approved plan has many "inadequacies," according to the city, because it does not include enough student housing. While the parking lot currently holds 340 cars, it will be upgraded to a 1,000-space garage in the new plan.

There will be a new dining commons and student housing for 900 students as well as the parking structure, topped by a playing field.

UC Spokesperson Chuck McFadden declined to comment on the possibility of a lawsuit.

Rob Wrenn, chair of the city's planning commission, said certain parts of the plan are acceptable, although the university's minimal construction of housing directly ignores the desires of the community.

"To sum up my opinion - housing yes, parking no," Wrenn said.

The new parking will only increase the number of students who drive to school, when they could live closer to campus if housing was provided, he said.

The city holds contention with several elements in the plan's Final Environmental Impact Report, which analyzes the university's use of the land and its effect on the surrounding area.

"I wouldn't be opposed to taking some steps (toward litigation)," Wrenn said. "There could be grounds for legal action."

Councilmember Kriss Worthington, who sponsored a measure in November to send a statement to the regents outlining the city's suggestions, said the university should listen to the consultants they hired.

"Paid consultants to the

university have said the 'more housing, less parking' plan is 'the significantly environmentally superior alternative,'" Worthington said. "The city wants them to consider what these consultants have told them."

If the city takes legal action, the university will have to review the Environmental Impact Report in its entirety, since city officials said the university did not adequately study the whole plan.

The city attorney is currently reviewing the facts of the case in consideration of legal action in the future. The analysis should be finished by this Tuesday, but due to the complexity of the issue, the City Council will most likely wait until their Dec. 12 meeting to take action, Worthington said.

A new report may be drafted if the city wins in court, although it would mean delays for the project and increased costs, Mayor Shirley Dean said.

"I'm not a big fan of suing simply for a new (report), but if we really need to, then we will," she said. "I believe it is possible we can work together to achieve an end without a lawsuit."

Complaints voiced against the Underhill plans include disappointment with how the buildings will look.

"My big concern is the design plan for the dining commons," Dean said. "The sketches I saw did not look like a building we would want to see in Berkeley."

The city wants to ensure that the design is compatible with the surrounding neighborhood, since community members found it a "visual assault," said Councilmember Polly Armstrong.


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