UC Berkeley has filed in court changes to plans for its $140 million sports training center — with several concessions to its opponents — with hopes the judge will consider lifting a stop-work order so construction can begin on the site where tree sitters have been living for 18 months.
The university's court filing Friday was in response to legal paperwork filed by project opponents — the city of Berkeley, the California Oak Foundation and the Panoramic Hill Association — last week.
In those documents, opponents told Alameda County Superior Court Judge Barbara Miller that the university should scrap its plans to build the center unless it can prove that the nearby football stadium, which straddles the Hayward earthquake fault, can be retrofitted legally.
"We hope and believe that in the wake of Friday's (court) submission, that it will be clear to the court, the city and the community that we have moved to clear the last remaining obstacles to a quick commencement of the new athletic facility," said university spokesman Dan Mogulof.
The city of Berkeley, the California Oak Foundation and the Panoramic Hill Association all sued the university in December 2006 to halt the project because of concerns about traffic, noise and safety.
The Oak Foundation, which includes the tree sitters, wants to save 44 trees where the center is slated to be built. The three lawsuits were consolidated and a trial was held before Miller last fall.
Last week, Miller released a 129-page interim ruling that found the new center for Cal's 450 student-athletes is mostly legal. However, Miller said the university must show that the nearby football stadium can be legally retrofitted, which involves proving renovations don't amount to more than 50 percent of value of the original 1923 building.
The Alquist-Priolo earthquake fault zoning law of 1972 prohibits "alterations or additions" to existing structures to be built on earthquake faults where the cost of the "alteration or addition" exceeds 50 percent of the value of the structure.
Miller ruled that the sports training center is a separate structure but said "certain elements" of the training center project constitute alterations to the football stadium. Under Miller's interim ruling a grade beam was found to be an "alteration" to the stadium.
In its proposed changes, UC Berkeley told the court that it will not place a new, $700,000 grade beam on the stadium's west wall during construction of the sports training center.
Mogulof said the university provided to the court written documentation from the project's engineer certifying that the "student athletic high performance center can be built safely and in compliance with all applicable codes without the concrete grade beam."
Mogulof said that in the thousands of pages of administrative record presented during a trial last fall, the "grade beam was in no way physically connected to the (training center) and was intended solely to prevent possible minor cosmetic cracking to the stadium's west wall during construction of the (center)."
What's more, university officials say, now that the university has decided not to install the grade beam, the university is suggesting that there no longer exists any need for Miller to further consider how or if she should arrive at a valuation for the stadium.
"While that issue may need to be considered when, in a few years, the university is ready to begin work on the stadium itself, her ruling that the (training center) is a separate structure from the stadium essentially makes the valuation issue a moot point for the time being," according to a statement released by the university late Friday.
But Mike Kelly, vice president of the Panoramic Hill Association, had a different take.
"I think that the university is running away from reality here. I think the university is really scared about the reality of how much Memorial Stadium is worth," Kelly said. "The reason they are removing the beam is because they are terrified of facing that Memorial Stadium is not worth very much. The big plans that they have for (the retrofit) of Memorial Stadium will be illegal, and they don't want to face that."
Under the proposed changes, the university also said it will drop plans to have seven non-football events per year. Instead, it will rely on a 30-year-old policy that will allow Cal to consider on a case-by-case basis non-football events.
That means that if the president of the United States comes to Berkeley to speak or World Cup Soccer needs a venue, the university will have the option to "work cooperatively with campus neighbors on issues concerning the use of Memorial Stadium," Mogulof said.
The legal submissions to the judge come in the wake of two weeks of volatility between tree sitters and university officials and campus police.
Within the last two weeks, UC Berkeley administrators, who last fall won a court order allowing them to evict the tree sitters at any time, cut traverse lines, took a few protesters out of the trees and drove the rest of the tree sitters into a single redwood.
For a while, it looked as if campus officials were prepared to starve protesters out. They are not allowing outside groups to bring the tree sitters food or water. But this week university police sent up a case of water and some energy bars to the six or seven protestors who remain in one tree.
The university had asked that in return the tree sitters begin sending down their human waste on a daily basis. They refused. They have used buckets of stockpiled waste as weapons against university-hired arborists attempting to remove them. Tree sitters and their supporters say they are prepared to hold out.
"They're very well-trained tree climbers. They're very experienced, and I have trust in them that they're going to keep themselves safe and they're going to keep defending the grove," a ground supporter who would give her name only as Citizyn.
It's not clear when Miller will issue her final ruling on the case. It could be next month, but it could be later. The Berkeley City Council will meet in closed session on Monday to discuss the situation.