(Note from Blogger: I’ve highlighted portions below which appear to indicate that UC won on the major issues)
BERKELEY, Calif. -- Alameda County Superior Court Judge Barbara Miller issued a mixed ruling Wednesday that initially pleased both supporters and opponents of the University of California, Berkeley's controversial proposal to build a new sports training center next to its football stadium. UC-Berkeley spokesman Dan Mogulof said the university's lawyers are still reviewing Miller's 129-page ruling, which wasn't released until after 6 p.m, but their initial reaction is that Miller "ruled in the university's favor regarding every issue concerning the construction of the student athlete high performance center."
But Stephen Volker, the attorney for the California Oak Foundation, one of three plaintiff groups who filed suit to try to stop the $125 million project, said he's "very pleased" with Miller's ruling because she ruled that some aspects of the university's plan violate the Alquist-Priolo Earthquake Fault Zoning Act. That act is a state law that prohibits alterations or additions to existing structures for human occupancy built across earthquake faults where the cost of the alteration or addition will exceed half the value of the existing structure. The proposed training center would be located next to the UC's Memorial Stadium, which sits on top of the Hayward earthquake fault. Volker said Miller also ruled that the university's environmental review of the project "is deficient in several respects."
A spokeswoman for the city of Berkeley, which is another plaintiff in the case, said Miller's ruling is mixed but appears to preclude the university from going forward at this time. Mogulof said UC-Berkeley Vice Chancellor Nathan Bostrom and Athletic Director Sandy Barbour will comment on Miller's ruling at a news conference at 8 p.m. In her ruling, Miller said the university's environmental impact report and approval of the first phase of the training center project complies with the Alquist-Priolo act.
Miller said that as a whole the training center doesn't violate the act because it is not an addition or alteration to Memorial Stadium. However, Miller said "certain elements" of the training center project do constitute alterations to the football stadium. The judge said that in order comply with the act, the university must determine the value of the alterations and of the football stadium.
Miller said the university complied with environmental procedural and substantive requirements "in nearly all respects" but the record "does not support the university's unavoidability findings relating to earthquake related risks and additional noise and traffic impacts" from the university's plans to have add more high-capacity events at the stadium, which already hosts about six football games a year. The third plaintiff in the case is the Panoramic Hill Association, which represents people who live in the neighborhood next to the football stadium. A UC Board of Regents committee approved the project in December of 2006, but Miller issued a preliminary injunction against the project on Jan. 29, 2007, which temporarily halted it.
Volker said his interpretation of Miller's ruling is that the university can't go forward with its plans in their current form. In her ruling, Miller said the plaintiffs must submit a proposed writ of mandate and judgment by June 24 and the university must respond by June 27.
Miller said she will retain jurisdiction over the case until it has determined that the university has complied with environmental laws and the Alquist-Priolo Act. Earlier in the day, environmental activist Dumpster Muffin's standoff with arborists 60 feet above a UC Berkeley oak grove gave the showdown between the university and tree-sitting protesters a human face as clashes over the threatened grove continued for a second day. With supporters chanting below, Muffin stood precariously on a wooden platform high above the trees anchored by what appeared to be a 2x4 and a pair of wires.
The arborists were trying to lure Muffin from the perch and threatened to cut the support wires. With each verbal exchange between Muffin and workers, tensions rose. Below her, supporters jeered UC police officers deployed around the grove. Matt Marks, a supporter of the tree-sitters, said protesters were determined to protect the grove which is schedule for removal to make way for an athletic facility. "This is a really important plot of land on many levels," he told KTVU Wednesday morning. "We are here to protect it… we will leave if the UC signs a document that says it will never be cut down." Campus officials had increased the number of officers surrounding the grove Wednesday, heightening the tensions as the hours wound down toward the release of a court decision on the fate of the grove. On Tuesday, arborists assisted by a cherry picker and, protected by at least 40 UC police officers, entered the grove and began removing support structures and ropes constructed by the protesters in the trees. One tree-sitter was arrested after she allegedly bit an arborist working to cut the lines. The action, which sliced some ropes that carry food, water and demonstrators into the trees, came on the eve of a ruling on lawsuits challenging campus plans for a new sports center. The plan would mean cutting down the oak grove where protesters have been perching for months.
Campus officials said they won't try to yank protesters out of the trees, but made it clear they've run out of patience. The protests began in December 2006. "We wish it hadn't come to this. These people have been given every opportunity to come down voluntarily," said campus spokesman Dan Mogulof. "The university has been tolerant and that tolerance is coming to an end." Protesters vowed they would not give up and some tossed buckets of urine at police and arborists, hitting a few targets, according to Mogulof. An acrid tang hung in the air afterward. One female tree-sitter allegedly bit an arborist and was taken into custody by police, Mogulof said. A spokesman for the group Save the Oaks confirmed that a long-term tree-sitter was forcibly taken down from the oak grove. Doug Buckwald said that around 4:30 p.m. a woman who goes by the name "Millipede" was pulled from one of the trees and was placed in police custody. "They grabbed a woman and took her down from the tree as she was screaming," Buckwald said. Opponents of the new sports center criticized the university's actions as heavy-handed. "This is just a further example of the criminalization of what should have been a community planning process. That's the real shame here," said Buckwald. . University officials say the new athletic facility -- planned in concert with upgrades to cramped and aging Memorial Stadium -- is sorely needed.
But the City of Berkeley, a neighborhood group and the California Oak Foundation sued to block construction based on concerns about earthquake safety, traffic, and the oak grove. The seismic argument stems from the fact that Memorial Stadium, which is next to the proposed facility, is bisected by the Hayward Fault. State law prohibits renovations to structures on earthquake faults if the changes amount to more than 50 percent of the value of the existing building. Campus officials say the new facility is not a renovation but a separate building. They note that the proposed center would not be on an earthquake fault, although it would be near, and say studies show the building would be seismically safe. On the issue of the trees, campus officials say they will plant three new trees for every one cut down. Mogulof could not speculate on what will happen if sitters refuse to descend from the trees. "At every possible junction they have chosen confrontation. We're really hoping that at some point there'll be an outbreak of common sense," he said.
School officials said the protest has cost the school more than $370,000 for security staffing and for fencing to limit access to the grove. The Oak Grove is located just north of the intersection Bancroft Way and Piedmont Avenue, near the International House in Berkeley.