UC Berkeley Web Feature
Court ruling is 'a temporary setback,' but planning continues for new student-athlete center
|Video: View comments from Athletic Director Sandy Barbour on the court ruling and plans for the student-athlete center|
BERKELEY – UC Berkeley officials today (Monday, Jan. 29) called a judge's decision to block immediate construction of a new student-athlete training facility "a temporary setback" in the university's plans for the southeast corner of campus. They said, however, that planning for the new facility will continue to move forward.
Construction of the student-athlete center is seen by the campus as the first step in plans to renovate and retrofit California Memorial Stadium, allowing students and staff — the daily occupants who work and train there — to move out of the 83-year-old stadium, which straddles the Hayward Fault.
"We believe strongly that this project meets all state environmental and earthquake-safety requirements and that we will ultimately prevail in court," said Vice Chancellor for Administration Nathan Brostrom, adding that "our goal and priority must be the safety of our staff and student-athletes."
The three plaintiffs — the City of Berkeley, the Panoramic Hill Association, and the California Oak Foundation — are challenging the university's environmental and seismic review of the project. In Monday's ruling, Alameda County Superior Court Judge Barbara Miller issued a preliminary injunction against construction at the site, setting the stage for a trial that could begin this summer on the merits of the case. The decision bars the university from taking action that "would result in change or alteration to the physical environment" at the planned site.
Although the university is "very disappointed" by the court's decision, Brostrom said, it will move ahead with the bidding process for the construction, as permitted by the judge's ruling. He added that it is as yet uncertain what effect the injunction will have on the construction schedule for the student-athlete center. Brostrom said the campus is exploring ways to compress the construction schedule and keep the project on track if the university wins at trial.
"We'll be housing 13 sports in the high-performance center, so this project is not only important for football but for about half of our intercollegiate sports," said Brostrom, who oversees the athletics department. "It's important to [football] coach Jeff Tedford — we need more modern facilities, no question — but that pales in comparison to considerations of life safety for our students, which this project provides."
Before work begins on the stadium itself, he said, "We have to remove 400 to 500 staff and students who work there every day." The training center, therefore, "is an absolutely critical step in shoring up the stadium.”
Attorney Charles Olson, who is representing the campus in the case, said the university is "reviewing the court order now" and did not rule out the possibility of an appeal. The next step in the legal process, he said, would be to prepare up to 45,000 pages of documents for the court to certify, something that could take several weeks. Olson said briefings in the case could take place in April and May, with a full trial to follow in June.
Olson said the judge issuing Monday's ruling "was asked to review many complex issues in a very short period of time. We appreciate the efforts of the court to reach a decision, but we continue to believe that the project has met all the required seismic and environmental reviews and requirements, and that that will ultimately be borne out."
Brostrom reiterated that the university had looked at "numerous alternate sites" — both on campus and as far away as Golden Gate Fields in Albany — before deciding to renovate Memorial Stadium and construct the new training facility next to it. "For many reasons, this is the optimal site," he said, noting that the current plan both "integrates athletic and academic endeavors" and "preserves the historic nature of the stadium."
As for the handful of tree-sitting protesters perched in the oak grove near the site of the proposed training center, Brostrom said that the university had no plans to take action today, but that the protesters are "in an unsafe environment" and are breaking the law.
"We at the university are complying with the court order and obeying the law," he said. "The judge has issued a ruling, and we would ask the [tree protesters] to respect that ruling and obey the law as well."