Richmond site selected as Berkeley lab’s second campus

RICHMOND, Calif. — After about eight months of evaluating different finalist locations, the University of California announced Monday morning that the Richmond Field Station is the preferred site chosen for the second campus of the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory.

Berkeley Lab officials selected the field station — which the UC already owns — after considering six finalist sites, including the field station, the Aquatic Park in West Berkeley and properties currently occupied by the lab in Berkeley and Emeryville.

“The Richmond Field Station had the strongest combination of attributes,” said lab director Paul Alivisatos at a Monday press conference in Richmond. “The close proximity and ready access to the lab and UC Berkeley campus and the demonstration of community support in Richmond helped us select this site.”

Alivisatos said the lab also considered geotechnical studies of all the sites before making a decision, which had been postponed since November due to additional investigations into the potential campuses.

He added that because more than 20 percent of the lab’s biosciences research — which varies in topic from biofuels to cancer — takes place at various leased locations around the East Bay, creating a second campus that will consolidate research locations will allow for more multidisciplinary work between scientists and engineers and provide the opportunity for future expansion.

According to Jay Keasling, Berkeley Lab’s associate director for biosciences, about 800 biologists and bioengineers will be the first to move into the new campus, which is expected to open in 2016 and will be around 300,000 square feet in size.

UC Berkeley Chancellor Robert Birgeneau said in an email sent to campus faculty and staff that the lab, along with the UC Office of the President, will be responsible for financing the construction of the new facilities at the field station. He added that the university will now start formulating a long-term development plan for the Richmond site and seek final approval from the U.S. Department of Energy.

But before construction can begin, the environmental standard of the land at the field station will have to be assessed, since it sits on land that once served as a dumping ground for chemical waste from nearby dry cleaning, chemical manufacturing and blasting cap companies.

Even after UC Berkeley funded environmental remediation programs between 2002 and 2004, the campus continues investigating the environmental standard of the land, according to Christine Shaff, communications manager for UC Berkeley’s facilities services department.

“We are working with the state oversight agency to continue to understand what is out there,” Shaff said. “What we will do will depend on what is being remediated.”

Berkeley City Councilmember Linda Maio, who originally supported Berkeley’s Aquatic Park as the location for the lab’s second campus, said in an email that while she was disappointed that the lab did not choose a location in Berkeley, selecting the field station was a logical choice.

“It will be a good investment all the way around to accomplish any toxic or hazard removal in the process of locating there,” she said. “It is, after all, a public site, and it makes sense to improve it.”

However, university and Richmond city officials remained hopeful that the expansion of Berkeley Lab into Richmond will not only strengthen ties between UC Berkeley and the lab but also help create jobs in a city that is still recovering from the economic recession of 2008.

According to the California Employment Development Department, the city had a monthly unemployment rate of about 15 percent in November and December last year — above the state’s monthly average, which hovered around 11 percent at the end of last year.

State Assemblymember Nancy Skinner, D-Berkeley, said in a statement that the lab opening its second campus in Richmond will bring “prestige as well as economic and educational benefits to a community particularly hard hit by the recession.”

Staff writer Adelyn Baxter contributed to this report.

Amruta Trivedi is the lead academics and administration reporter.