Sep 102008

The battle to save the trees in Berkeley met an end. The grove next to Memorial Stadium has been razed in favor of a training center.

I am a Cal fan, and I feel disgusted.

To clarify, I’m not really a fan of many of the grove’s advocates either. In many instances I question their altruism and their intellect. Some of their arguments were so obstinately contrary as to be completely farcical.

That said, there were many legitimate reasons to resist the University’s plans. It wants to add sink massive amounts of capital to construct structures in a congested, seismically unstable area surrounded by a dense neighborhood of non-university residents. At minimum the grove provided a welcome, bucolic time-out amid the urban jungle. But it also occupied space that makes absolutely no sense to build on.

It is mere feet from an active, creeping fault line. Now, from what I understand, trenches were dug and it was determined (a) that the land was not directly on the fault, and (b) that building anything on land that close to the fault would be no more seismically precarious than building anywhere else in Berkeley. Assuming both these facts to be true, it STILL strikes me as an appallingly bad idea to try to wedge an additional building in that last bit of (relatively flat) open space. I can see why the neighbors were aggrieved. I used to live in that neighborhood, and if I were still there I think I would have been aggrieved too.

But what’s most disgusting about the whole turn of events was how the university insisted on doing what it wanted, indifferent to reason or reasonable complaint, and rammed it through, despite all its incumbent problems.

I have spoken to Cal athletic director Sandy Barbour about my concerns. She insists that meetings with the community were held, and while I don’t doubt that they were, I still see no real evidence of any serious responsiveness on the part of the university. In fact, its insistence to do what is clearly on its face a bad idea belies there having effectively been any of that professed good will on the part of the school.

It makes me angry, as a loyal Cal fan, to see this all play out. Sure, the Sandy Barbours and Jeff Tedfords have brought us a “winning” program, and having the training center may help us continue to win, but it’s no guarantee, and we’ll be left with the permanent detritus of this decision long after they’re gone. The instance on changing the contours of the neighborhood to support the greedy desires of the university reflects poorly on this school, a school I’m otherwise proud to be connected to. Although space is obviously precious, I do not accept that there was nowhere else to put the training center. Particularly when one of the professed reasons for wanting to build it next to the stadium was to spare the players from having to walk up the hill.

I’m sorry, but every other student has to walk up the hill the campus is laid out on, and if our football players are too feeble to manage the climb, then they’re going to have big problems come game time.

Meanwhile, the stadium itself remains in desperate need of its retrofit, but because the university insists on adding the training center, construction has been needlessly delayed for years for the dispute to be resolved, and it will be further delayed while the training center is built first. It will be years before the stadium is finally fixed, and the university has consciously chosen to maintain a hazardous situation for its tens of thousands of fans, like me, who fill the stadium on game days by pursuing this incompatible priority. (9/11: See possible update here.)

Which the 4.2 earthquake just a few miles away, the night they started razing the trees, drives home.

 Posted by at 12:26 pm

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