Hearing held on Berkeley sports center

July 17, 2008 4:54:11 PM PDT
A judge said today that she will try to rule as soon as possible on the University of California, Berkeley's request that she modify an injunction which currently prevents the university from building a new sports training center next to its football stadium.

At the end of a two-hour hearing, Alameda County Superior Court Judge Barbara Miller said she understands that time is of the essence both for the university and for three groups who filed suit to try to stop the university's proposed 158,000-square-foot project.

UC attorney Charles Olson said the estimated cost of the project has grown by more than $11 million since Miller issued a preliminary injunction on Jan. 29, 2007, stopping it for now.

Olson said "construction costs now are astronomical" and the latest estimate by UC officials is that the project will cost about $140 million.

Olson said, "We need to stop the bleeding. It has to stop soon." The university wants to begin preliminary work on the project as soon as possible, he said.

Attorneys for the city of Berkeley, the California Oak Foundation and the Panoramic Hill Association, which represents people who live near the football stadium, said time also is an important issue for them because they want to have enough time to seek a stay from the state Court of Appeals if Miller allows the training center project to go forward.

The attorneys for all three plaintiffs said they would like to have at least 30 days after Miller issues her ruling to seek a stay that would continue to stop the project until they can appeal Miller's ruling. The appeals process could take 12-15 months.

Harriet Steiner, an attorney for the city, said the Berkeley City Council wants to have enough time to consider filing an appeal if Miller rules against the plaintiffs.

Steiner said the council has scheduled executive sessions Friday and Tuesday nights so that it can decide on an appeal if necessary.

Olson said he thinks the time period for seeking a stay should be "as short as possible" and not be any later than next Wednesday.

Miller said she wants to make sure that the plaintiffs have enough time to file an appeal if necessary and she's inclined to grant five or 10 days for seeking a stay.

A UC Board of Regents committee approved building the sports training center on Dec. 5, 2006.

Shortly afterward, a group of people began living in a grove of oak trees next to the stadium to protest the project because it calls for tearing down most of the trees. Three protesters remain at the site.

Both sides in the case claimed victory after Miller issued a 129-page ruling on June 18.

But Miller said today that the university was "the primary prevailing party" in the case and she's considering reimbursing the university for some of its legal costs.

Olson told Miller that the university believes it should be allowed to go ahead with its project because it believes it has resolved the few remaining concerns expressed by the judge.

But Michael Lozeau, an attorney for the Panoramic Hill Association, said the university shouldn't be allowed to go ahead with the project immediately.

"When you cut down the trees, they won't come back in our lifetime. If the trees are cut, they're gone," he said.

After today's hearing, Stephen Volker, the attorney for the California Oak Foundation, said, "We did prevail in this case," even though Miller said twice that the university was the biggest winner.

Volker said if Miller lifts the injunction against the project, he's "confident" the plaintiffs can get a stay and win the case on appeal.

He said, "We expect to prevail on more issues" if the case goes to the appellate courts.

At the hearing, Olson told Miller that the university will request that the plaintiffs in the case be required to post a bond of $1.5 million a month if they appeal a potentially adverse ruling by the judge.

But Volker said Olson's request is "shameful" because the university knows that the California Oak Foundation and the Panoramic Hill Association wouldn't be able to afford to post a bond if the city of Berkeley, which has deeper pockets, decided not to join an appeal.

Volker said the university's request for a requirement to post a bond "is a strategy to strip us of our right to appeal" and "would slam the courthouse door on our face."


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