As the Bears head onto the field . . .
. . . the campus hopes to keep its plans for a new student-athlete training facility out of court
29 August 2007
As the Cal football team prepares to meet Tennessee this Saturday at Memorial Stadium, the campus is readying for a court date over the planned Student-Athlete High Performance Center, the first phase in a multi-year southeast-campus plan that includes seismic retrofitting of the 84-year-old stadium. But while the Bears are eager to avenge last year's opening-day loss to the Volunteers, a legal battle is something campus leaders would prefer to avoid.
The judge presiding over legal challenges to plans for the student-athlete facility has set trial for Sept. 19. Alameda Superior Court Judge Barbara Miller issued a preliminary injunction in January barring site development until three lawsuits, since consolidated into a single case, could be heard at trial. Co-plaintiffs in the suit to block the 132,500-square-foot, state-of-the-art performance center are the City of Berkeley, the Panoramic Hill Association, and the California Oak Foundation.
In response to concerns about earthquake safety, the campus hired an independent consulting firm to conduct further testing at the site this spring, and confirmed that there are no active fault traces. Construction of new buildings on an active earthquake fault is prohibited under the state's Alquist-Priolo Earthquake Zoning Act, which the City of Berkeley has invoked in its lawsuit.
Although the latest geologists' finding "gives us even more confidence of prevailing at trial," says campus Athletic Director Sandy Barbour, "it would certainly be our hope" that the newest test results might encourage city officials to seek an out-of-court settlement with the university.
Besides additional testing, the campus has made a number of modifications to its plans in an effort to accommodate plaintiffs in the case, such as reducing the number of parking spaces and agreeing to replace trees slated to be cleared at the site. The trees, most of which were planted by the university when Memorial Stadium opened in 1923, would be replaced on a 3-to-1 basis if the campus's plans are approved.
"We have listened. We believe we have been responsive," says Barbour. "I think these efforts have largely flown under the radar. We're not inflexible, we're not saying, 'Here's our project and, boom, we're doing it, and we're not concerned about these other things.' Because we are."
A number of top campus officials, including Chancellor Robert Birgeneau, have expressed a desire to work with the City of Berkeley to reach an out-of-court settlement. "I've always believed that there was much more that unites us in all this than divides us, and that there are better uses of the taxpayers' resources and the university's resources than a trial and a lawsuit," Barbour says.
"The bottom line is providing safe and quality facilities for over 400 student-athletes and another 40 to 50 staff and coaches."
The project, says Barbour, "has in many ways been misunderstood - that it's strictly about football, that it's about taking down trees in an ancient grove. And it's not. It's about 13 of our 27 intercollegiate programs. It's about safety. It's about conditions for success."