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Judge to Decide Future of U.C. Berkeley Sports Center

Tue October 30, 2007 - West Edition

HAYWARD, Calif. (AP) The University of California, Berkeley, and its host city clashed in court Oct. 11 as lawyers argued the merits of a proposed sports center opposed by city officials, neighbors and a determined band of tree-sitters.

After attorneys spent most of the day presenting their closing arguments, the case went to Alameda County Superior Judge Barbara Miller, who didn’t make an immediate ruling. Work on the project was halted earlier this year when Miller temporarily stopped construction while three opposing lawsuits were being heard.

Suing to stop the project are the city of Berkeley; a group of people who live near the proposed center, which would be built near Cal’s Memorial Stadium; and the California Oaks Foundation, which opposes, among other things, plans to cut down a grove of trees to make way for the new building.

That last aspect has prompted the most colorful protest to the project, with a small group of people taking to the trees and perching there since December.

In closing arguments, attorneys challenging the project denounced it as seismically unsafe — the Hayward Fault runs through Memorial Stadium — and environmentally unsound.

Representing the city, Harriet Steiner said officials had only paid “lip service,” to environmental laws. Attorney Stephan C. Volker argued on behalf of California Oaks that UC officials approved the project last December in a “headlong rush to get this project moving.”

But university attorney Charles Olson said officials have met or exceeded all legal requirements. He said the university has a stellar record of promoting seismic safety and “frankly, suggestions to the contrary are insulting.”

Olson said the city is overstepping its authority and trying to design UC Berkeley projects and said it wasn’t likely that the university would be able to satisfy critics in the activist-minded city.

“Berkeley is Berkeley, where nothing is easy,” he said.

Campus officials say they need the new center to provide a safe space for athletes now squashed into cramped and dilapidated quarters. They maintain they have followed all the necessary planning requirements and say surveys show the new center won’t be built on an active fault.

Volker said the campus failed to mention the impact of cutting down an old oak grove to make way for the new center and also did not take note of the possibility that construction could disturb the remains of American Indians.

Olson said there’s no significant evidence that the construction will disturb the remains. He noted that almost all of the trees were planted by the university after construction of Memorial Stadium in 1923.

University officials have promised to plant three new trees for every one felled.

But that hasn’t satisfied the tree-sitters. Volker said he would accept the offer to replace mature trees with saplings only if the campus would agree to put 3-year-old trees on the field for their next football game.

The tree-sitters have gained more attention as UC Berkeley’s football team has climbed in the rankings, to No. 2 this week.

Olson made a wry reference to the protest while addressing complaints that construction would disturb wildlife in the area.

“I admit that there’s wildlife in the area now, but they weren’t there when we started this process,” he said.

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