BERKELEY -- Now that a trial date is set for the consolidated lawsuit against Cal to block construction of a new high-performance athletic facility, the question becomes whether there is a chance the case could be resolved before it is heard by Alameda Superior Court Judge Barbara J. Miller on Sept. 19.

The suit, which rolls separate lawsuits by the City of Berkeley, the Panoramic Hill Association and the California Oak Foundation into one, claims that the university's plans to build the $120 million athletic facility is unsafe because of the nearby Hayward Fault. It also protests Cal's plans to construct an underground parking garage because of the traffic and congestion problems it might create.

But with a geology report earlier this month that concluded there is no active fault directly beneath the proposed site of the center, it appears much of the contention now is over plans for the garage, which is slated to have 911 spaces to make parking more centralized for football games at adjacent Memorial Stadium.

"We remain and always have been intent on settling with the city out of court," Cal athletics director Sandy Barbour said. "I don't think a trial serves anybody well. I'm sure the taxpayers and the university could find better uses for the money that would be spent on litigation if it ends up in court."

When asked about the prospects of settling the case out of court, Berkeley mayor Tom Bates didn't sound encouraged, although he did say "we should talk.


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Barbour said any talks presently taking place between Cal and the city are strictly informal, that there are "hundreds of issues and this is one of them I'm sure comes up in every conversation."

A separate lawsuit filed by a group attempting to preserve Tightwad Hill, the area above the stadium where fans can watch games for free, is being considered separately.

According to Barbour, the university has offered to reduce the size of the proposed parking garage to about 500 spots. But Bates is opposed to having any kind of garage in that location. He points out that the university already is adding close to 700 parking spots at the renovated Underhill parking facility on College Avenue.

"Why do they need another (garage) on a two-lane road on the Hayward Fault?" Bates said. "I want them to come by other means rather than their car. I want them to take BART and rapid transit."

The Panoramic Hill Association represents residents who live in the hilly neighborhood above Memorial Stadium. It claims Cal's plan would increase congestion and make the area unsafe in the event of an earthquake. The California Oak Foundation is opposed to the university's plans to remove 42 oak trees as part of the project. Cal has offered to plant three new trees for every one removed.

According to Barbour, reducing the size of the garage will leave parking capacity at about the same as it is now. She also said the new configuration of Memorial Stadium, which will be retrofitted and renovated as part of the project, will decrease attendance capacity by thousands of seats and therefore alleviate traffic and congestion concerns.

"With that reduction comes a reduction in parking, traffic, trash and noise," Barbour said. "It's marginal, but at least we're not increasing it."

Barbour said it was still unclear how much capacity would be decreased when the project is complete. It will depend on the number of chairback seats that are installed in the renovated stadium. The stadium now seats 67,537.

The Hayward Fault lies directly beneath Memorial Stadium, and Cal plans to make the facility more seismically safe. The proposed athletic center would be the new home for hundreds of staff and students who are inside Memorial Stadium every day.

"I think what's been lost in all of this is the extent to which we all should be motivated to insure the safety of our staff, students and fans," Barbour said. "This is a really important project for us, and I think it should be just as important to the city. It's about doing the right thing and about having the right safety.

"I certainly believe our interests are united. If you take that as a premise, there has to be a solution we can work out."

Bates is a compelling figure in this ordeal because not only is he the mayor of Berkeley, he also was a member of the last Cal football team to go to the Rose Bowl in 1959. While the lawsuit has become a point of contention, Bates says he still has a good relationship with the university and is involved in a lot of other activities with Cal. He recently spoke at the Special Olympics opening ceremonies at Haas Pavilion.

"You have to keep things separate," Bates said. "I'm very proud of my background and am happy that I represented the university, but I have to look out for what's best for the city. I think it would be pretty juvenile to let that affect everything else. I want them to have a high-performance center. I just don't want it in that location."

Contact Jonathan Okanes at jokanes@cctimes.com.