Supporters pitch West Berkeley site for Berkeley Lab second campus

A public meeting was held to discuss the impact of Berkeley Aquatic Park West as a potential second Berkeley lab campus.
Jeffrey Joh/Staff
A public meeting was held to discuss the impact of Berkeley Aquatic Park West as a potential second Berkeley lab campus.

Supporters of one of six finalist sites under consideration for the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory’s second campus described the potential environmental, economic and community service benefits the site could bring at a crowded public meeting Thursday night.

Berkeley Aquatic Park West is one of six finalist sites the lab is considering for its second campus and the only site located completely in the city of Berkeley. At the meeting, proponents argued that the park is the best option for the Berkeley lab largely due to its proximity to the existing lab campus — a factor which could reap environmental benefits because the new campus’s carbon footprint would theoretically be smaller than that of other options, since employees would have a shorter distance to commute to or from the original lab.

In addition, locating the second campus at the aquatic park would benefit West Berkeley businesses, supporters said, because lab employees would likely dine at local restaurants, shop at local stores and make use of other amenities nearby.

“How can we turn our back on this golden and great opportunity? … This will bring much-needed resources to our city coffers, and for that I am excited — for that I am thrilled,” said Berkeley City Councilmember Darryl Moore at the meeting.

If selected, a second campus located at the park would actually result in some loss in property tax revenue for the city because it would come off the property tax rolls, according to city officials.

“The good news in this case is that the tax assessments on these parcels are fairly low — they’ve been owned a long time by the families that own them,” said Michael Caplan, the city’s economic development manager, in an interview. “The loss of revenue from seeing them developed … would be fairly low.”

Still, the city would generate revenue through stimulated business activity in the area, Caplan said.

The proposed second campus represents an effort from the lab to consolidate programs in spaces currently scattered throughout the Bay Area as well as provide long-term cost savings and room for future lab growth. According to a lab presentation given at the meeting, about 25 percent of lab facilities are off-site. Three sites in Emeryville, West Berkeley and Walnut Creek total about 475,000 square feet.

Public reception to the aquatic park proposal was mostly positive at the meeting, with many community members expressing agreement with the purported benefits to the city.

But not everyone was convinced that a second lab campus at the park would be completely beneficial for the city. A few members of the public, including local activist and homeless advocate Zachary RunningWolf, stated concerns during the public comment portion of the meeting about potential toxic waste from the lab.

Another issue raised was how tall the buildings at the second campus would be — a contentious topic in West Berkeley.

“I’m hearing a lot of wishful thinking here tonight,” said Zelda Bronstein, former chair of the city’s planning commission, at the meeting.

Architect Adam Glaser said at the meeting that the aquatic park site “will not be extremely big buildings” but also emphasized that the plans are still  “very, very preliminary.”

On Monday, the final proposal for a second campus will be presented on behalf of a site in Berkeley and Emeryville on land already occupied by the lab. A decision on a preferred site should be made by November, with occupancy scheduled for 2016.

J.D. Morris is an assistant news editor.