Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Oakland Tribune: Fans of Tightwad Hill sue over stadium plans

By Kristin Bender

OAKLAND — A group of frugal Cal Bears football fans who belong to a group called Save Tightwad Hill sued the University of California, Berkeley, on Monday in an effort to stop expansion plans that will block their free views of games at Memorial Stadium. UC Berkeley is facing four separate lawsuits to halt its controversial plan to retrofit Memorial Stadium and build a $125 million sports training facility for athletes along the stadium's western wall.  The city of Berkeley, the Panoramic Hill Association and a group of 12 plaintiffs, including the California Oak Foundation and Save the Oaks at the Stadium, all have filed separate lawsuits.  A hearing is slated for this morning to decide whether the first three lawsuits will be consolidated and heard by one judge.  The Tightwad Hill group filed suit because the university's plan for additional seats on the stadium's east side would raise the height by about one story and block their views.  For the hundreds of fans who sit up on the hillside with their beers and binoculars on game days, that doesn't fly.  "We want to protect the views from Tightwad Hill and the use of Tightwad Hill. The outcome that we really want is for the university to alter their plans so that Tightwad Hill can continue as it has for the last 80 years," said Dan Sicular, head of Save Tightwad Hill, an unincorporated association.  A committee of UC Regents in early December certified the environmental impact report for the project, which includes the training center, a new building for the law and business schools, and retrofitting the 84-year-old stadium.

Before suing, Tightwad Hill fans collected 1,000 signatures from people who want to preserve the tradition of watching home games on the hill, which started with the Big Game against Stanford in 1923.  "We certainly would have preferred that the regents would have acted proactively so none of this would have been necessary, but they forced us into a corner," said Sicular. A university spokeswoman Monday said officials had not seen the lawsuit and could not comment.  The city of Berkeley last month sued UC, citing concerns about earthquake safety — the planned projects are on the Hayward Fault — emergency access, and massive traffic jams from a 900-space parking lot. The Panoramic Hill Association, which has its own lawsuit, shares some of the city's concerns.  The group of a dozen plaintiffs sued because they are trying to save 42 historic oak trees in front of the stadium. The group also has concerns about safety at the project site.  In a protest move, three people began living in the trees more than a month ago. Three more people joined the original three this week, a spokesman said. The tree-sitters say they plan to stay until they are forcibly removed.  Before the lawsuits, the university had planned to break ground on the training center in March and complete the project in February 2009. The legal proceedings could derail those plans

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