UC Berkeley’s parking crisis, and how we got here

A parking lot with a sign that reads "Lot permanently closed"
Olivia Staser/Staff

The imminent destruction of the Upper Hearst Parking Structure will cost the campus at least 200 parking spaces. The loss translates to longer and more difficult commutes for UC Berkeley faculty and especially for staff, whose journeys to and from work will include satellite lots and shuttles to central campus. The demolition is part of a $126 million development plan that includes new housing and additional space for the Goldman School of Public Policy.

The plan was rejected by UC Berkeley faculty, who voted 174-69 to ask Chancellor Carol Christ to suspend the project in a special meeting of the Academic Senate on May 1. UC Berkeley engineering professor Sanjay Govindjee and Haas School of Business professors Richard Stanton and Nancy Wallace argue that the deal puts the campus at financial risk. Additionally, the financial projections made by the campus do not incorporate diminished revenue due to lost parking spaces in a review of the plan dated April 30. Christ dismissed these objections in a May 1 email message to the campus.

“I believe that any procedural deficiencies notwithstanding, the project is properly situated and rests on a strong financial foundation where most of the risk is being borne by non-campus entities,” Christ said in the message.

Christ’s dismissal was distributed via [email protected], a distribution channel that the chancellor controls. Professor Eli Yablonovitch, who has been organizing faculty objections to the plan, reports that he has been blocked from using this channel.

The parking lot will be replaced by a residential hall that will “serve graduate students, postdoctoral students and faculty members to help UC Berkeley reach its goal of increasing housing availability for the campus community,” according to a Feb. 20 article in The Daily Californian. That article quotes campus spokesperson Kyle Gibson, who explained that the plan works to everyone’s advantage.

“Every bed that we’re bringing online is another bed that’s not being filled by the private market,” Gibson said in the article. “The more we build, the more pressure we take off of the private market. … There’s a net benefit for everyone.”

The characterization of lost parking as a necessary sacrifice for badly needed housing ignores a significant part of the story; namely, it ignores the continual depletion of the stock of campus parking spaces that has occurred over the past several decades.

The full story is told in a May 11, 2018, letter to UC Berkeley administrators from the Management Council of what was then called the Academic Business Officers Group.

“In 2013 alone, the campus permanently lost 550 parking spaces (and an additional 125 spaces for two years during construction),” the letter stated. “However, when lots temporarily closed and then reopened in 2015, 100 permit holder spaces were changed to public parking for a total loss of 650 available spaces for permit holders.”

One piece of new construction that replaced parking is the Legends Aquatic Center, which opened in fall 2016. The Legends pool deprived the campus of more than 200 parking spaces, and its construction tied up traffic on Bancroft Way for more than a year. The pool is used only by a few elite athletes — recreational swimmers are denied access — and Legends is empty much of the time.

I pay $575 per year to be a member of Berkeley Rec Sports, but I cannot swim at Legends. I pay $1,896 per year for a central campus parking permit, but I often struggle to find a parking space. These difficulties are fallout from decisions by UC Berkeley administrators that have favored the few over the many. But they are small compared to the burden that may be placed on a commuting staff member if the Upper Hearst Parking Structure is demolished.

As we work to prepare UC Berkeley for a bright, sustainable and inclusive future, let’s ensure that we deploy our resources on behalf of the entire community.

Lisa Goldberg is a UC Berkeley adjunct professor in the Department of Statistics.