Berkeley City Council, residents oppose UC Berkeley development plan

Photo of 1921 Walnut
Kaitlan Tseng/File
Berkeley City Council and city residents voiced concerns toward campus’s Long Range Development Plan. The plan would replace the one from 2005.

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Berkeley City Council members and city residents expressed opposition to UC Berkeley’s proposed Long Range Development Plan, or LRDP, at a special council meeting Tuesday.

The 2021 LRDP would replace the existing LRDP from 2005, and provide a framework for land use and capital investment decisions for campus to meet its future goals.

In response to campus’ Environmental Impact Report, or EIR, draft for the proposed LRDP, the special meeting was held to collect community and council input to inform the official comments that the city of Berkeley will send to UC Berkeley regarding the EIR.

It is anticipated that the UC Board of Regents will approve the LRDP this year, according to Shannon Allen, the principal planner for the city’s Planning and Development Department.

“We know that the city of Berkeley and UC Berkeley are intertwined — one would not exist without the other, but there needs to be not just a symbiotic but an equitable relationship between the city and the university,” said Mayor Jesse Arreguín at the meeting.

Arreguín added that the city is currently facing unmitigated impacts from the previous 2005 LRDP, including the impact of a “lack of adequate housing” for campus’ growing student population on broader housing needs in Berkeley.

The LRDP projects a development program of about 8 million square feet of academic, residential and parking space by the 2036-2037 academic year, to meet the needs of a projected population of 48,200 students and 9,000 faculty and staff, according to Allen.

Two specific housing projects are included in the LRDP: a 770-bed mixed-use development on Walnut Street, and a housing development at the site of People’s Park, which would include 1,187 beds in student residential housing and 125 beds in supportive housing, Allen said. Both projects involve the demolition of city landmarks.

The EIR also outlines the impacts of the LRDP on the surrounding area. According to Allen, the EIR states that the LRDP will have “less than significant” impacts on energy, public services, utilities and water quality.

However, even with mitigation, the EIR states that the LRDP will have “significant and unavoidable” impacts on cultural resources, pedestrian hazards and wildfires.

Over the course of the meeting, multiple council members challenged the EIR’s assertion that the LRDP would have “less than significant” impacts on city utilities and public services, especially since the projected LRDP would likely increase the city’s population.

“To assume there’s no impact on fire and police services — and sewers and public infrastructure — is nonsensical,” Arreguín said at the meeting.

The stated “significant and unavoidable” impact on wildfire safety was also a major point of concern for many council members, with Councilmember Sophie Hahn noting that the proposed development in extremely high fire hazard zones was “irresponsible.”

Both council members and community members expressed offense at campus’ absence from the special meeting.

“I am so deeply disappointed at how disrespectful this feels,” Hahn said at the meeting, in regards to the absence of campus representatives. “I’m really beside myself at how upsetting it is, and how far from a spirit of partnership it is for (UC Berkeley) not to be here making this presentation.”

During the public comment period, nearly 40 community members came to express their opinions on the LRDP, with the majority of speakers opposing the proposed development plan.

Many speakers expressed concern about the negative impacts of campus housing projects on the environment and housing market, in addition to specifically arguing for the protection of People’s Park.

The speakers also noted their desire for the city to utilize all of its options to oppose the LRDP.

“If after the final EIR is released they have not done an adequate job, we have to go to the Regents and ask for them to not approve the EIR; and if we’re not successful, we could do what the city did in 2005 and sue the university,” Arreguín said at the meeting. “That’s something the city can and may have to do.”

Community members can email comments on the EIR to [email protected] until the public comment period closes April 21 at 5 p.m.

Contact Alexandra Feldman at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @a_p_feldman.