Settlement clears way for Berkeley stadium update

April 8, 2010 10:07:39 PM PDT
The University of California at Berkeley and a neighborhood group said today that they have reached a settlement agreement that resolves issues stemming from seismic retrofitting and renovation work at the university's football stadium.

Michael Kelly, the president of the Panoramic Hill Association, said the most important element of the settlement for his neighborhood is that it limits the number of high-attendance events at Memorial Stadium, which is nestled between the campus and the Berkeley hills.

Cal hosts six or seven home football games every fall. Kelly said the settlement only allows the university to have two additional high-capacity events a year.

Kelly said, "As an organization, our focus is on safety and quality of life for local residents."

He said neighborhood residents are concerned that they would have difficulty getting out if an emergency occurred during a football game or another high-capacity event.

The agreement, which was recently approved by Alameda County Superior Court Judge Frank Roesch, requires UC Berkeley to assign an emergency response vehicle to the Oakland side of the Panoramic Hill neighborhood at all events attended by more than 30,000 spectators.

The stadium, which is located on top of the Hayward earthquake fault, opened in 1923 and currently is being upgraded so that it will be more seismically safe. The work, which is expected to cost $320 million, is scheduled to be completed in 2012.

The Cal football team will play at the stadium this fall but will play at an alternate site in the fall of 2011 while construction work is completed. UC Berkeley spokesman Dan Mogulof said the university hopes to announce the alternate site soon.

The agreement also addresses issues arising from the Panoramic Hill Association's participation in a 2006 lawsuit that challenged the university's plans to build a new sports training facility adjacent to the football stadium.

As part of the settlement, the neighborhood group has agreed to end its participation in an appeal of the trial court ruling that allowed the project to go forward.

In addition, the association has agreed to refrain from initiating or joining any future stadium-related litigation during the 15-year term of the agreement, as long as the renovation and seismic retrofitting of the stadium and new, additional capacity events remain consistent with existing environmental documents and the settlement agreement.

However, another group, the California Oak Foundation, is continuing with its appeal of the trial court ruling.

Stephan Volker, the group's attorney said, "We wish the Panoramic Hill Association well but we are convinced that the football stadium construction poses a very grave threat to public safety" because it's located on the Hayward fault.

The city of Berkeley had also participated in the 2006 legal challenge to the project but it decided not to participate in the appeal.

UC Berkeley Chancellor Robert Birgeneau said in a statement, "Beyond the welcome resolution of legal and operational issues that have created friction in the relationship with some of our closest neighbors, we believe that this agreement shows the extent of our commitment to building the best possible ties with the communities that surround the campus."

Under the agreement, UC Berkeley will pay about $75,000 in attorney's fees for the Panoramic Hill Association.

The two sides said that amount is roughly equivalent to what the association could have been awarded in a court ruling on its suit.


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