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Prop. 1A Promises Earthquake Funds

By Robert Sanders, Public Affairs
posted September 9, 1998

Proposition 1A on California's Nov. 3 ballot is of critical importance to Berkeley, since it will provide more than $75 million to secure or renew buildings in danger of sustaining serious damage during a major earthquake.

Berkeley's share of the $9.2 billion bond issue, which provides money for K-12 as well as for higher education, is a small but critical piece of the billion dollars needed to ensure that an earthquake doesn't put Cal out of business.

Over four years, Prop 1A will funnel more than $800 million for facilities reform to the nine UC campuses and help fund a proposed 10th campus. The amount the campus receives would be supplemented by private funds and money from Berkeley's operating budget.

"In the event of a major earthquake on the Hayward Fault, which runs -- unfortunately -- through the heart of the campus, nearly one in three of the buildings could present a threat to life safety, and an even higher percentage would in all likelihood be rendered inoperable," said Chancellor Berdahl.

In addition to life safety, the campus's first concern, a sizable quake could threaten the continued operation of the campus and its important research.

"Take those laboratories out of commission for two, three, or five years and the faculty will be gone. And the role that we have played in developing Northern California's impressive economy will disappear overnight," said Berdahl.

One of the larger portions of the bond pie will go toward making LeConte Hall seismically safe. Though the original 1923 building houses a large lecture hall and many teaching and research labs, in the most recent survey of campus buildings it was rated seismically poor.

"The bond monies will enhance the safety and functionality of some of our most important teaching and research buildings," said Professor Roger Falcone, chair of the physics department.

Bond funds will also save a valuable historic building. Part of John Galen Howard's original campus plan, LeConte was the site of the world's first atom smasher, built in 1929 by Cal's first Nobel Laureate, Ernest O. Lawrence. LeConte housed the labs of five other Nobel physicists.

Other buildings slated for retro-fit include Wurster Hall, home to the College of Environmental Design; Barker Hall, which houses numerous cell and molecular biology labs; and the old two-story brick Archaeological Research Facility.

Berdahl said that Prop 1A deserves a close look by anyone concerned about the future of Cal, as well as the future of public education in California.

"Funds from this bond measure are essential to the success of public schooling in California -- in first grade classrooms and in university laboratories."

Questions and Answers about Proposition 1A

What is Proposition 1A?

Proposition 1A, if approved by California voters on Nov. 3, 1998, would provide UC Berkeley with more than $75 million to strengthen and repair buildings vulnerable to serious damage in a major earthquake.

Called the Class Size Reduction Kindergarten-University Public Education Facilities Bond Act of 1998, Prop 1A authorizes the state to sell a total of $9.2 billion in general obligation bonds over four years to improve facilities throughout the state's public education system. Funds would be divided among public K-12 schools, the University of California, California State University and California Community Colleges.

About 95 percent of UC's state funded capital budget for this fiscal year depends upon approval of this bond.

How are bonds such as these financed?

General obligation bonds are a form of long-term financing for major construction projects such as schools and parks. They do not affect property taxes. Such bonds enable the state to borrow money and pay it back from the general fund, much like a person borrows money from a bank to buy a home and pays off the loan over a period of years.

How would UC Berkeley benefit from this bond measure?

According to a recent study, if a major earthquake occurred on the Hayward Fault, which runs through the heart of UC Berkeley, nearly one in three buildings on campus could present a threat to life safety. An even higher percentage of buildings would, in all likelihood, be rendered inoperable.

This bond will help make the campus a safer place even if a major earthquake strikes.

Which facilities at UC Berkeley would benefit from the bond measure?

LeConte Hall would receive one of the larger portions of the bond pie. Built in 1923, it houses a large lecture hall and many teaching and research labs for the Department of Physics. The historic site of the world's first atom smasher, built in 1929, and former home to six Nobel physicists, LeConte has been rated seismically poor.

Other critical projects that would benefit from the bond include Wurster Hall, which houses the College of Environmental Design; Barker Hall, with its numerous cell and molecular biology labs; and the two-story Archaeological Research Facility.

Berkeley has more older buildings than any of the other UC campuses, and 57 would threaten life safety in a quake. Passage of the bond would allow the most urgent projects to be completed and others to rise to the top of the list.

What effect might Prop 1A have on the state economy?

Supporters of Prop 1A say it would create more jobs and strengthen California's economy. The State Treasurer projects that the state can issue $34 billion worth of bonds during the next 10 years while maintaining a debt ratio of six percent and in no way jeopardize California's credit rating.

Prop 1A has broad-based support from organizations and associations including the UC Board of Regents, California Taxpayers' Association, California Chamber of Commerce, California Professional Firefighters and Congress of California Seniors. It opponents include People's Advocate, Inc., the National Tax Limitation Committee and Assemblyman Tom McClintock who maintain that the measure is too large and will obligate too much of the state budget for debt service.

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