Berkeley Mayor Tom Bates said he hopes UC Berkeley’s next chancellor will be someone from the Berkeley community, not someone who is “roped in from the outside.”
“That has been one of the problems with the chancellor — getting him to fit into and recognize the strength of the city to see what it can do to aid campus,” Bates said.
Because of its urban setting, the UC Berkeley campus is closely tied to the city of Berkeley — a city in which students and permanent residents interact closely, and the local government constantly feels the impact of the campus.
The relationship between the campus and the surrounding community, commonly referred to as “town-gown,” relies heavily on the chancellor, who oversees campus operations.
So beyond its impact on the UC Berkeley campus, the impending resignation of Chancellor Robert Birgeneau also marks the end of a significant, and sometimes contentious, relationship between the campus and the city.
Bates said relations between the chancellor and the city started off badly because of the 2020 Long Range Development Plan, a 15-year plan that would expand 2.2 million square feet of campus infrastructure and affect the area surrounding the campus. The plan eventually resulted in a lawsuit in which the university agreed to pay the city $1.2 million annually until 2020 in order to mitigate the costs of expansion.
Bates said that since then, Birgeneau and the city have forged a solid working relationship that has included a number of community partnerships.
Jim Hynes, assistant to the city manager, said he appreciated the chancellor’s interest in the community and campus impact on neighbors, especially given the chancellor’s community grant program and an eventual legal settlement over the 2020 development plan.
“He’s contributed funds to offset students moving out, which hadn’t happened before,” Hynes said. “That clearly indicates his interest to maintain quality of life for surrounding neighborhoods of campus.”
Still, a major point of controversy arose between the campus and city over the renovation of Memorial Stadium — an issue that the city sued the university over in 2006.
The city eventually decided not to appeal after an Alameda County Superior Court judge ruled in 2008 to allow the campus to continue renovation plans, ruling that the university had brought the renovation plans up to earthquake safety standards and environmental quality laws, which had been the point of contention that originally led the city to sue the campus.
Berkeley City Councilmember Kriss Worthington said he thinks Birgeneau should have spent more time working on collaboration between the city and campus.
“Even though I represent the central campus, I’ve been refused the chance to have meetings with the chancellor on an occasional basis,” Worthington said.
He also said the next chancellor should be more like former UC Berkeley chancellor Chang-Lin Tien, whose administration Worthington said led fundraising collaboration with the city without sacrificing campus or community ideals.
“(Tien) was able to spend time fundraising but also negotiate with unions respectfully and network with the broader community,” Worthington said.
But according to Julie Sinai, UC Berkeley’s director of local government and community relations, there is no reason to believe that the partnership between the campus and the city will be impacted or changed now that Birgeneau is scheduled to leave.
“We are moving along a path that has been enhanced over the past few years, and I have no intention of putting anything on hold,” Sinai said.
Anjuli Sastry covers city government.