UC Berkeley News


A progressive community demands progressive, responsible planning
The 2020 Long Range Development Plan has been crafted to help the campus grow — as it must —in harmony with its host city

| 19 January 2005

Old Stanley Hall, demolished last year (above), was “dysfunctional,” campus planners say. Its replacement, in addition to housing state-of-the-art labs and equipment, will bring specialists in a range of disciplines together to work on problems in bioengineering — one example of the benefits of contiguity, a primary value informing the 2020 LRDP. (Peg Skorpinski photo)
It’s not surprising that UC Berkeley’s Long Range Development Plan (LRDP) has raised some hackles in the city that shares its name with the campus.

University officials concede that change comes hard, especially for a landlocked campus in an already dense, built-up urban environment. The university, they insist, has no choice but to grow. The question is how that growth is to be managed.

And they firmly believe that the revised LRDP, the document meant to guide the campus’s growth for the next 15 years, commits the university to maintain the collaborative relationship it has had with the city since their humble 19th-century beginnings. If relations have occasionally been thorny, they say, that’s to be expected in any marriage.

“We understand that we’re not an island — that the Berkeley experience is as much due to the city as it is to the campus,” says Facilities Services’ Kerry O’Banion, one of the project’s managers. “We have as much interest in maintaining the great quality of life in the city as the city does. We’re interdependent, and we have to work together.”

At the root of the recent tension between the university and city officials — as well as some Berkeley residents, many of whom expressed concerns about future development in their public comments following release of the draft LRDP in April 2004 — are differing views of what’s behind the expansion push. To critics who argue that the university is bent on growth for growth’s sake, campus officials stress that growth is a prerequisite for Berkeley if it is to retain its status as a world-class educational institution and accommodate an influx of new students. But, they insist, neighbors’ concerns — over issues ranging from lack of specific project details to traffic congestion — are far from being ignored.

“We think this plan is a realistic framework,” Chancellor Robert Birgeneau told the Committee on Grounds and Buildings of the UC Board of Regents on Tuesday at its meeting in San Francisco, prior to its vote to recommend certification of the LRDP to the full board later in the week. “The educational and intellectual framework we operate in is evolving continuously, and in order for us to play a leadership role and stay at the frontier, we must have ‘frontier’ educational and research facilities.This is the essence of the LRDP, which maps out in a general way the kinds of facilities we’ll need over the next 15 years to provide the quality education and do the quality research we do today.

“We care about the quality of the city and its environs just as much as any resident — possibly even more,” Birgeneau said, “because in order to ensure that UC Berkeley continues to play its world-leading role, we must be able to attract the very best faculty, students, and staff from around the world, and that relies on having a livable city. We’ve had an admirable history in this regard.”

The oldest UC campus . . . and showing its age

Catherine Koshland, Berkeley’s vice provost for academic planning and facilities, served as chair of the campus Academic Senate when the Strategic Academic Plan — the foundation on which much of the LRDP is built — was approved in 2001. She says the university’s role as a leading-edge research institution, combined with the UC Regents’ mandate to boost enrollment by 4,000 students, underlie not just the impetus toward future construction, but also the fact that most new building will occur on or near the core campus.

“We had to be responsive to the UC system,” Koshland says, explaining that while many of the additional 4,000 students are already enrolled, there’s a lag time between the arrival of students on campus and the addition of new faculty, staff, and facilities to accommodate them. Although the university explored the possibility of developing additional space in other parts of the Bay Area, Koshland says, it was decided that “one of the great strengths of Berkeley” from an educational standpoint was its capacity to foster creativity across academic disciplines, a strength that demands that faculty and students work together in close proximity.

Berkeley is the system’s oldest campus, and its buildings are showing their age. Moreover, modern-day research has made many of its facilities obsolete. What is increasingly needed today, Koshland says, are not separate rooms, but laboratory spaces that flow into one another, promoting intellectual cross-fertilization. She also notes what she calls “a false dichotomy between research and education,” explaining that research opportunities can benefit undergraduates as well as grad students. “We’re bringing the research environment into every part of the education process,” she observes.

The value of contiguity

One example of how the university intends to break down educational barriers is Stanley Hall, currently under construction. The new building is designed to bring together physicists, biologists, chemists, and engineers to work on problems in biotechnology. “There’s a real value in what the academic plan calls contiguity, of having everyone in the same place,” says O’Banion. “Because you bump into each other, you have a conversation that leads to a new insight, and all of a sudden you have a new path of inquiry. So even though there’s a lot of potential new space in the plan” — about 2.2 million square feet — “virtually all of it will occur on the central campus or on the blocks immediately adjacent to the campus.”

O'Banion sees “a significant potential for meeting most, if not all, of our space requirements on land we already own. And that's always the first option we'll look at.”

The university is currently partnering with the city and a private developer to develop a downtown hotel and conference center on private land, combined with a museum that would sit on an adjacent parcel owned by the campus. “The university has always needed a first-class hotel and conference center,” O'Banion explains. “This is a way for us to meet that need without taking any land off the tax rolls. There may be other needs we'll have in the future where we can do the same thing.”

As for the city’s complaint that approval of the LRDP amounts to a “blank check” for future development, O’Banion says the California Environmental Quality Act, or CEQA, is “very clear” on the need for environmental-impact evaluations of future projects that are not yet far enough along (or even yet imagined) to be described in the long-range-planning document. And the LRDP does contain “a number of measures that ensure that the city and the public will be informed,” he says, including a commitment to make project presentations to the city planning commission.

Facilities Services’ Jennifer Lawrence, a co-manager of the LRDP (and, she notes, “a Berkeley resident myself”), insists that the long-range plan allows “plenty of opportunity for public review” and likens its big-picture focus to that of the city’s General Plan.

“The LRDP lays out what our development policies are going to be,” she says. “It’s the bible by which to judge us on whether we’ve accomplished what we’ve said we’re going to do.”

O’Banion also points to such features of the plan as green-building standards, which require that the university explore “the full range of alternatives” before settling on a project, and that it look beyond initial building costs to so-called lifecycle costs. “These are things that are really new and really innovative in this plan,” he says. “And you don’t hear about them . . . because, I have to assume, everybody thinks they’re a great idea. But it’s important not to forget them.”

And while parking and traffic are always issues in Berkeley, university administrators point to stepped-up efforts to promote public-transit options, including the recently instituted Bear Pass for staff and faculty who ride AC Transit. In response to public comments, the revised LRDP cut the number of projected parking spaces by 500, contingent on progress toward implementation of a rapid-transit bus line to the campus.

In addition, the plan calls for all new student housing to be either within walking distance of (or at most a 20-minute transit ride from) Doe Library.

“Our parking numbers are low compared to campuses of our size,” observes campus community-relations director Irene Hegarty, noting that Berkeley’s 7,000 existing spaces are less than a third of those at UCLA, whose campus population is roughly equal to ours. But traffic, like other issues raised by Berkeley residents in response to the LRDP, is another growing pain common to both the university and what Hegarty calls “a changing, dynamic city.”

In an urban environment like Berkeley, Hegarty says, “any growth, any change is going to have repercussions beyond our borders. It’s a classic town-gown issue . . . [but] I do think the university is trying hard to use progressive planning policies to guide this growth.”

O’Banion, who describes the LRDP as “the result of nearly two years of public engagement,” says it’s meant to present citizens with “the full scope of the program” so that when the university does propose a specific project,“they’re not just looking at a project in isolation. They understand that this is part of a larger program of growth and renewal, and where a given project fits in.”

The LRDP process began a full year before release of the draft plan, O’Banion adds, with a pair of informal open-house forums in March 2003. “And,” he notes, “we’ve been talking to the city and the community ever since.”