By Doug Oakley
BERKELEY — UC Berkeley will voluntarily delay construction of a $125 million athletic training center at Memorial Stadium until a state appeals court considers a lawsuit opposing the project, university officials said Monday. The project, which is increasing in cost by $750,000 a month due to delays from the lawsuit, could now be stalled until at least the end of September, said Cal spokesman Dan Mogulof. The project has been held up in court since December 2006. Any further delay would be up to the appeals court, Mogulof said.
In July, Alameda County Superior Court Judge Barbara Miller ruled in favor of the university and against three groups who sued over the project on environmental and public safety grounds. Two of the groups appealed the decision, but the case was kicked back to Miller because she had not yet considered a request for a new trial by one of the plaintiffs. Miller is now set to reissue her ruling, one in which both sides believe will favor Cal but send the case back to the appeals court.
The California Oaks Foundation, the Panoramic Hill Association and the city of Berkeley all sued UC Berkeley in 2006. After the defeat in Miller's courtroom in July, the city of Berkeley decided to throw in the towel while the other two groups decided to ride out an appeal. Those who oppose the project say the university should not cut down trees to build a project that can be built elsewhere on campus and that the project will add too much traffic to the area, raising safety concerns in the event of a large-scale disaster. "We're confident the court of appeals will reverse (Miller's decision) on a number of grounds," said Stephan Volker, a lawyer representing the California Oaks Foundation. At his annual briefing to the media Monday, UC Berkeley Chancellor Robert Birgeneau let off some steam about the delay in construction because of the lawsuits. He said that athletes who now train in Memorial Stadium are in danger because the building is not structurally sound.
"From the very beginning, this has always been about the safety of our student athletes," Birgeneau said. "I think it's really unfortunate that all of these legal proceedings have extended the danger to our student athletes. I think the people responsible should be ashamed of ourselves."