Downtown Berkeley marred by huge labs

In Feb. 2007, Berkeley Mayor Tom Bates said, “We are poised to be an international center for the development of new environmental technologies… That opportunity grew with the award of a $500 million biofuels research center to UC Berkeley and Lawrence Berkeley National Lab two weeks ago.” Of course you’ve noticed Berkeley’s two new high-tech research laboratories looming over Oxford Street, at Hearst — one on the UC campus and one Downtown. Even though they’re big buildings, they remain mostly a mystery to everyone.

On the east side of Oxford Street stands UC’s Li Ka Shing Center for Biomedical and Health Sciences. It rises five stories (yet stands over 100 feet in height for electrical connectors, pipes and air ducts in the labs), spreading out over an area of around 200,000 square feet.

Opened in January, its vast interior is planned to accommodate innovative undergraduate coursework and training, as well as house scientists from around the world undertaking new biomedical research methods. Such science is expected to advance the university’s ongoing alliance with corporations to develop patents for both private and public interests.

It’s fascinating to learn that major donor Li Ka-shing is China’s richest citizen and that Forbes ranks him as the ninth richest man in the world. His fortune includes a majority holding in Husky Energy, the Canadian oil mining and exploration company that has entered into a multi-billion dollar joint venture with BP called the Sunrise Oil Sands Project (a major proponent of the Keystone Pipeline) in Alberta, Canada.

Across Oxford Street, in the Downtown area, stands the nearly finished Helios Energy Research Facility. This approximately 63,600 square foot building is also five stories tall and also rises above 100 feet. It will accommodate the university’s precedent-setting $500 million research agreement with BP — Mr. Li’s partner in the Tar Sands venture.

The agreement was negotiated in 2007, without informed public debate, by then-LBNL director Steven Chu and the current U.S. Secretary of Energy.

In exchange for corporate investments, the university would allow BP to use facilities, infrastructure and personnel to subsidize private, for-profit business. The agreement funds the Helios building’s Energy Biosciences Institute, and it also entitles BP to specify research priorities and manage and control research collaboration that might lead to significant discoveries (i.e., patents). It can be assumed that EBI intends to use genetic engineering to develop and patent genetically modified biofuels grown cheaply in developing countries and new types of genetically engineered microbes, including those used for extracting oil locked in the tar sands of Alberta.

A new Downtown Area Plan was approved on March 20 by the Berkeley City Council. The plan is guided by the secret City/UC Settlement of 2005, which mandated a new plan to accommodate the university’s needs (and anticipated oversized buildings), such as the Biomedical Center and Helios building.

These new buildings radically change the Downtown area’s direction and also deplete the city’s resources. The university pays no property taxes, and because the university barely compensates the city for its use of services and infrastructure, UC’s impacts weigh unfairly on Berkeley’s taxpayers. City infrastructure is already compromised, and its budget is increasingly a mystery, including a looming $310 million in unfunded liabilities. How can the council and Planning Department in good conscience support the expansion of a global scientific research park in our city on the behalf of the one percent for free?!

Stewart Jones is a former candidate for Berkeley City Council in District 8.

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  • Stan De San Diego

    [This lawsuit was over UC's overexpansion]

    Maybe the UC system should “overexpand” in some place such as Merced where the locals want jobs and would be happy to have the economic boost provided by building new facilities. One of the problems with Berkeley is that the local political climate attracts a disproportionate number of professional whiners who always find some slight to piss and moan about. The full-time activists are never going to be content with anything, and really don’t have anything productive to offer, so why even waste time with them?

  • Joe

    Wow, UC’s impacts weigh  unfairly on taxpayers? Berkeley (and in fact the whole East Bay) would just be a crummy wasteland devoid of jobs, safety, and culture were it not for the university. At least we know that the author’s anti-society, faux-progressive views will soon be relegated to the dustbin of history.

  • Joe

    Wow, UC’s impacts way  unfairly on taxpayers? Berkeley (and in fact the whole East Bay) would just be a crummy wasteland devoid of jobs, safety, and culture were it not for the university. At least we know that the author’s anti-society, faux-progressive views will soon be relegated to the dustbin of history.

  • 3rdGenBerkeleyan

     Downtown is marred by Bates and the city council!

  • Berkeley researcher

    The one percent?!  Very very few (likely none) of the PIs fit into the top 1% by income, and NONE of the postdocs, graduate students, and undergrads do.  Scientific research is most definitely a 99%-er sort of job.

    • Tony M

      True, but try to explain that to these Occupy-obsessed morons, and it’s like trying to reason with a brick wall. It’s getting to the point that any time I hear or read of someone whining about the 1%, I realize I’m dealing with in individual with a rather childlike and over-simplified view on how the real world works…

  • A taxpayer

    This article does nothing to stimulate conversation.   The Li Ka-shing building is on the UC Berkeley Campus, adjacent to other similar, and larger buildings.  The Helicos building replaces a complete eyesore which also did not pay taxes or otherwise contribute to the city.  So, what is the point?  And, the concluding remark about approving a project for the “global one percent”; get real.  Remember, research is at the core of the university; that is what makes it a great institution. 

  • John Parman

    But the site of the Helios building was the State Health Lab, so it wasn’t a revenue generator for the city anyway. The tie with BP is the more serious allegation, but BP isn’t the only company that funds research at Cal. It would be interesting for the Daily Cal to consider the issue more generally. My guess is that, at this point, the university is dependent on corporate funding to fill in gaps in public-sector funding. I would say that very few funders – public, institutional, or corporate – are genuinely neutral, but while a BP may have a more direct interest in certain research outcomes, they may also be funding university research in order to transcend the limitations of their inhouse biases.

  • GarbleGarble

    The “outrage” here is hilarious – just sounds like a bunch of liberal arts majors that are angry because engineering and science can easily make up for the lack of government funding through private industry – while there is likely nobody coming to the rescue of the liberal arts departments if gov’t funding disappears.

  • Berkeleyprotest

    I am BP

    • Stan De San Diego

       No, you’re the same silly child posting one-liners.


    So the UC is going to subsidize BP and let it call the shots on direction of research…

    Sounds like fail, sounds like POTUS (via Chu) turned out to be a big corporate stooge.
    Oh wait, his current and immediately prior Chiefs of Staff worked for Citigroup and JP Morgan respectively. His health care bill originated on the Right at the Heritage Foundation and amounts to delivering us all into the hands of an industry with a track record of price gouging, denial of care and all around bad faith dealings while simultaneously increasing in cost at almost double the rate of medicare cost increases.

    Did you know that as of yesterday the Mortgage Settlement Task Force does not even have a phone number, an office or any staff? Khuzami heads the SEC after being Deutsche Bank’s general counsel and he oversaw CDOs. Over at DoJ Holder and his No.2 Breuer used to be partners at the firm which wrote the legal opinion justifying MERS, the “database”, better read as “blackhole”, used by the banks to destroy the land title transfer system in the US. (Know what it means to physically possess the note? No? Then I suggest you either find out, or never buy property in this country.)

    Obama threw in his lot with criminals, literally the very same people who committed history’s greatest financial fraud.
    The reality is that anyone who agrees to step up into administration, university or political, already understands the unwritten rules: they will help the existing elites lie, cheat, and steal or they will be marginalized.
    Chu is one example, Salazar is another: when the Deepwater Horizon burned and sank we found out that Salazar had retained a bunch of people at Interior who were exposed during a sandal in 2006 (coke and sex between regulators and industry execs!). The only way to view Salazar is corrupt or incompetent…

  • TomBatesisacrook

    UC Berkeley needs to be a better neighbour and member of the City and apparently world at large.  Richard Blum and his cronies of the 1% run UC system like a personal fiefdom.  UC Berkeley students faculty and staff bring many benefits to the City but the administration is way outta control.  Sure UC is good for City in some respects and bad in others.  We need to curtail the bad parts and show the UC some tuff love.  And that wont happen until we have stronger leadership in City government that demands true partnership.  City hall has become a department of UC planning dept.  and it is pathetic


      Can you give some examples aside from this BS article?

  • Studente

    Real estate…small businesses…tourism…it’s all definitely being destroyed by the presence of UC Berkeley.

    • Stan De San Diego

       That’s ludicrous, given that most of those businesses AND tourists wouldn’t be there if it wasn’t for Cal. Or do you think people come to Berkeley merely to check out the homeless derelicts urinating and defecating in public spaces?


        you should move out stan

        • Stan De San Diego

           I moved out a long time ago, junior.

          • YOU TRIPPIN DAWG

            wheeew, thank you!!! Glad you have time to troll from home, wherever that is!  

          • Stan De San Diego

            I asked a question, which you either could not answer or did not want to answer. Therefore, you made a silly remark in reply. You’re the troll around here.


      No here’s your problem: none of that would even exist without UC Berkeley. There are two reasons people come to berkeley, firstly that they want the “experience” , an ideal that stems from stuff like the Free speech movement, all of which happened at Cal. On the other hand, they come for a great education and end up spending their money here instead of wherever they live. The city would be nowhere near as prosperous today if it weren’t for the university.

  • Stan De San Diego

    “In exchange for corporate investments, the university would allow BP to use facilities, infrastructure and personnel to subsidize private, for-profit business.”

    In other words, a quid pro quo, one that upsets the usual suspects because it’s geared to benefit those engaged in useful courses of study such as science and engineering-related majors, instead of the usual political propaganda and victimology courses that pass for “education” in the humanities and liberals arts sections of the campus.


      Right you are Stan.  Liberal Arts are the problem with UCB and actually universities in general.  What we need is corporate privatization of the public sector entirely so America can finally prosper and realize its destiny of spreading freedom colours throughout the cosmos (starting with Mars of course).  We need visionary companies like BP to save us from the brink!!! Up computer science and nanotech, the heck with regulations and oversite, let the market regulate!!!  Down with the hippys in Journalism, and the liberal arts!  You Stan understand the intricacies and harsh realities of modern society and deserve credit for your comments. To quote Mitt Romney:  NO APOLOGIES! Thank you

      • Stan De San Diego

         Thanks for showing how liberals need to make silly extrapolations to cover up the fact that they are incapable of reason. I never said that liberal arts per se are the problem (not that I would expect someone as dimwitted as you to grasp that subtle point). I was referring to the type of propaganda peddling programs that have co-opted legitimate courses of study such as languages and history, and have corrupted others such as journalism. The fact that private benefactors are willing to donate money to certain programs is because they see value in them. The fact that your chosen flavor of basket-weaving or grievance studies doesn’t merit the same type of fiscal attention as chemistry or MCB or comp sci might just be a reflection on how totally useless and inconsequential it is w/r/t the real world.

      • Tony M

         [What we need is corporate privatization of the public sector entirely]

        Well, if the public sector can’t manage its own money or balance a budget, maybe letting those who can take charge of some of the more dysfunctional operations and straighten them out wouldn’t be a bad idea. But then again, that’s not what bothers you and your ilk. What really gets your goat is that those in the real world with real money refute the assumption of you narcissistic lefties that you provide anything of value in the real world. The scientists, engineers, and tech enterpreneurs bringing new products and ideas into the marketplace have done far more to improve the lives of people all over the world than the motley collection of professional protesters, agitators, and malcontents that have infested Berkeley for the last 4 decades. The real world is giving you the finger you deserve – live with it.

  • Calculus 30

    Interesting. Daily Cal front page article says in future UC will be financed mostly by private donations such as from Mr. Li Ka-shing, complicated investment schemes, etc. Looks like Downtown becomes an easy source of  free land for UC “start-ups,” extending the BP patent deal until the bubble pops. It’s America for the 1%   

    • Stan De San Diego

       So tell me who in their right mind would move to or start any type of business in Bezerkeley if it wasn’t for Cal?

      • Nunya Beeswax

         Bezerkeley is only “Bezerkeley” because of Cal anyway.  Not that I think the University should be given carte blanche to do whatever it likes, but let’s face the truth–what would this city be without its university?

  • Doc

    The University is proving the salavation of Downtown. The city’s old agenda mostly meant letting town become the next phase of the People’s Park urban experiment. Town was to have mostly poverty housing and regular occupations by homeless and advocacy groups. Developers and the University have given us a much better vision.  Labs and mixed use building have breathed life into town.Thanks 

    • Nunya Beeswax

      Saying that the Helios and Li Ka-Shing buildings are “downtown” is stretching the definition a bit, isn’t it?  Does “downtown Berkeley” really extend past Shattuck Ave. and it’s cross streets?


    Downtown Berkeley is marred by empty storefronts dilapidated structures. 

    Also, I literally laughed out loud in the library when  I read “UC’s impacts weigh unfairly on Berkeley’s taxpayers.”

  • I_h8_disqus

    While the university does not pay property taxes, its presence is the foundation for most of the business, housing, and individuals that do pay a variety of taxes.  Berkeley is a city with a lot of people who are doing well because of the university.  A research building will bring in more workers who will spend money and taxes in the city, and likely hardly use any of the resources their taxes will pay for.  While we may not be able to tax the university in every way imaginable, we still get a lot of revenue from the new research building.

    • Stunned

      “A research building will … hardly use any of the resources their taxes will pay for”.  Huh?  Sewers and streets are exactly what property taxes pay for, and UC pays exactly ZERO for those.  The City should simply cap the sewer hookups for new UC buildings and see how well those brand new research facilities function.

      As far as more workers spending money and taxes in the city, I guess you mean an economy based on *lunch*.  

      • JJMMC

        Better than an economy based on panhandling.

        • Stan De San Diego

           Or drug-dealing, stolen bicycles, or any other of the cottage industries that pop up when you have a hands-off attitude towards criminals, indigents, and sociopathic political activists.

      • I_h8_disqus

        Actually, the city charges sewer service fees.  The new building will pay for these various utilities  that are used by the building.  So the new workers won’t poop for free.

        And feel free to go to the local business owners and ask them if they would like more workers downtown.  Calling it a lunch economy is probably insulting to the small businesses that are running in the area around the university.  I guess their success and tax payments don’t mean much to you or the city?  Without the university, Berkeley would look very different, and not in a good way.


          Ummm university pays drop in bucket of sewer fees you trippin read UC fiscal impact study.  You are misinformed they cost City tax payers millions and what they do give in business tax and a token monetary offering leaves the City tax payers still paying millions upon millions to cover their arses and fiscal impacts on City Services.  NEW ECONOMIC REALITIES EVERYBODY NEEDS TO PAY THEIR FAIR SHARE NOT 2008 ANYMORE!  

          • YOU_FOOLS

            I don’t think you understand, everything in Berkeley would be completely worthless without the university. There would be no reason to come here at all.

        • Zelda Bronstein

          Contrary to your claims, the secret agreement that settled the city’s 2005 lawsuit of UC capped payments from the university to the city for sewer and storm drain infrastructure projects at $200,000 a year. A 2004 independent report on UC’s fiscal impact on the city found that UC used $424,000 worth of sewer/stormwater public works. Berkeley taxypayers were already subsidizing the university’s use of these public works; the massive new projects can only inflate the size of that subsidy.

          • I_h8_disqus

            If the city settled on the $200K, then they must think that it is getting them the benefit they need.  I expect that the secret agreement had both parties looking at the costs and benefits from the university being in the city, and they settled on $200K as getting the city at least to break even.

            My main point is that without the university, the population of the city drops significantly.  The revenue of businesses within Berkeley drops significantly.  Various city taxes and county property taxes would drop quite a bit with over 50,000 residents no longer needing to live around the area or shop around the city.  The university provides a lot of indirect revenue to the city that funds many things this city would not have.  It isn’t wise to think of the university as a drain on city finances.

          • Zelda Bronstein

            The city–in this case, Mayor Bates and the five councilmembers who voted to approve the settlement (three voted no)–sold out Berkeley taxpayers. This lawsuit was over UC’s overexpansion; the agreement ended up facilitating that expansion, that curbing it. In any case, it’s absurd to talk about  the city “without the university”–as if the campus is going anywhere. It’s not only staying here; it’s getting colonizing the city. And any land UC owns or even rents is exempt from property taxes. 

          • I_h8_disqus

            Exempt from property taxes, but they generate other taxes and they pay utilities, and they are the foundation of all the other taxes that the city gets.  Nobody is talking about the university leaving.  I am just pointing out that the city’s revenues at this time are mostly the result of the university being here.  Maybe the city should recognize its sugar parent instead of greedily thinking it is that they are not getting their fair share.

          • Stan De San Diego

             “Contrary to your claims, the secret agreement that settled the city’s
            2005 lawsuit of UC capped payments from the university to the city for
            sewer and storm drain infrastructure projects at $200,000 a year.”

            If it’s really some “secret agreement”, how do you know about it?

            Really now, you’re not showing much credibility around here.