Monday, January 08, 2007

Oakland Tribune: Quake risk clouds Cal's stadium plans

ALTHOUGH experts say that the series of micro earthquakes that took place along the Hayward fault over the holidays weren't precursors to the "Big One," the fact that they occurred at all revived criticism of the University of California, Berkeley, plan to build a new athletic center and rehabilitate Memorial Stadium, home of the Cal Bears.   The reaction of Jesse Townley, chair of Berkeley's Disaster and Fire Safety Commission, to four magnitude 2.8 to 3.7 quakes was clear and straightfoward: "Rebuilding the stadium on the Hayward fault (which runs beneath the stadium) is probably criminally negligent. They (the university) know the fault is there. They know it's going to go in the next few years, and yet they insist on putting 60,000 people at risk every time they have an event there."   California and the Bay Area's susceptibility to quakes is well known — experts at the United States Geological Survey say the state averages between 230 and 280 small tremors a week — but big ones are few and far between. Our last major quake was the Loma Prieta in 1989; the last big one on the Hayward fault was a magnitude 7 temblor in 1868.

Since the Loma Prieta quake collapsed a section of the Bay Bridge, however, experts have said the probability is high that we will experience another major quake in the next 30 or so years. USGS estimates that there is a 62 percent chance of a magnitude 6.7 — or greater — quake in the Bay Area by 2032. And UC Berkeley seismologists have said there is a 27 percent chance of one that size on the Hayward fault.

Townley raises a valid concern. The stadium, dedicated in 1923 when seismological science was younger, is more than 83 years old and should not have been built on the fault. However, building a new stadium elsewhere nowwould be restricted by potential costs and lack of available sites.  Renovating Memorial Stadium is somewhat risky. But part of the project's purpose is to seismically strengthen the stadium, making it potentially safer. That should be done with care, using state-of-the-art design, materials, construction and upgrades to make it as safe as possible.  Finding another home for the Cal Bears football team would be difficult — if not impossible — on the cramped Berkeley campus. And the probability of a major quake on the Hayward fault occurring while the stadium is filled with fans is mathematically quite remote, given that the Bears play only about six games there a year. It is reportedly seldom used for other purposes.  A temblor is more likely to take place while the proposed state-of-the-art athletic center for football and 12 Olympic sports is in use. A new academic complex to be built across the street for the law and business schools and athletics also could be more vulnerable than the stadium.  If Cal built a new stadium or played football elsewhere, it would probably have to be off campus and outside Berkeley. Or, if a deal could be worked out, the school could possibly share a facility, such as McAfee Coliseum, with the Oakland Raiders after the A's move to Fremont.  We understand why UC might not prefer such options. It would be more expensive, less accessible and give the school less control over the facility.  Odds are that a major earthquake on the Hayward fault won't hit at the precise moment the stadium is full. If it does, however, university officials could forever regret their decision. The chaos and cost in injuries and lives could be catastrophic. As we learned from 1989 when Loma Prieta struck just before the start of a World Series game at Candlestick Park, the epicenter doesn't have to be nearby to do considerable damage and give fans the jitters.  University officials are playing the odds, but they don't seem to have many attractive options.


Anonymous said...

"But part of the project's purpose is to seismically strengthen the stadium.."

Cal Football Radical said...

Wow, I really wish I could find out who wrote this garbage so that I might have a word with them!