Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Oakland Tribune: UC Berkeley wins ruling in sports training center battle

By Kristin Bender

An Alameda County judge has ruled in favor of UC Berkeley in the dispute over its proposed sports training facility. Construction could start as early as next week if the proponents don't appeal the ruling.   Judge Barbara Miller issued a ruling Tuesday saying the university prevailed in most of the legal challenges, but at least one of the plaintiffs — the California Oak Foundation — has vowed to appeal.  UC Berkeley's $140 million sports training center has been blocked for 19 months by lawsuits from three groups — the city of Berkeley, the Panoramic Hill Association and the California Oak Foundation.

In the five-page ruling issued late Tuesday, Miller ordered the injunction that has been in place since February 2007 to be lifted seven days from today.   "(Construction) is going to start as soon as the injunction is finally over and we are very, very close," said UC attorney Charles Olson. "We're delighted with the judge's judgment. It is exactly what we had asked her to do and we are very pleased."  The last three tree sitters will have to be removed from a redwood at the grove where the sports training center is planned. As part of the construction, 44 trees will be cut down. University officials declined to say what will immediately happen with the tree sitters.   Miller had asked the university to address a few deficiencies in its original plans to build the center for the football team and 12 of the university's other sports teams. In her final ruling, she wrote that the university had satisfied her requests and "prevailed on the bulk of petitioners' claims." In fact, she has ordered the city of Berkeley and the other two groups to pay 85 percent of the university's legal costs.

Doug Buckwald, a spokesman for Save the Oaks at the Stadium, said Stephan Volker, the attorney for the California Oak Foundation, had told him there are plans for an appeal.   "The timing of Miller's decision is highly prejudicial against the petitioners. (Miller) did it in a way that makes it very difficult and inconvenient for us to pursue our legal rights to an appeal," Buckwald said. "But we are going to do the best we can to get papers in to the appellate court as soon as possible."  Julie Sinai, the chief of staff for Berkeley Mayor Tom Bates, said the mayor has called a closed session City Council meeting for Thursday to discuss the judge's ruling and a possible appeal.   Olson said winning any appeal will be highly unlikely after Miller considered 40,000 pages of administrative record over the past 19 months and issued a firm judgment in favor of the university.

"What she has done has given the petitioners a chance to go to the court of appeals and ask the three-judge panel to keep the injunction in place, and that is going to be a very tough challenge for them," he said. "They have a very high challenge to meet."

No comments: