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Planned Berkeley Stadium addition under court scrutiny

Leonard G.

Is the U.C. Berkeley stadium a safe place for 73,000 fans in an earthquake, and does it make seismic sense to plan additions to its western wall as the University is currently proposing?

The Panoramic Hill Association, the City of Berkeley and the California Oak Foundation think not on both counts, and the parties have presented arguments to Judge Barbara J. Miller in Alameda County Superior Court.

The stadium is an Historical Register structure that rests on a trace of the Hayward fault. Evidence presented in court by the plaintiffs hinged on whether the U.C. Regents should be allowed to build a new sports center adjacent to the stadium, and specifically whether the proposal violates the Alquist-Priolo Act, a California statute created to “prevent further unwise construction of critical structures on active faults.”

The attorney for the U.C. Regents, Charles R. Olsen, maintains that the new facility would not be located “on a known active fault.” The Alquist-Priolo Act states that any terrain “within fifty feet of an active fault shall be presumed to be underlain by an active fault unless proven otherwise.”
Plans for the proposed structure projected onto a screen by Panoramic Hills

Association attorney Michael R. Lozeau showed that the facility would be attached to the outer western wall of the stadium, and also penetrate the wall at several places with stairways. He also presented U.S. Geological Survey landform maps illustrating borings and trenches made by the University in the construction footprint. A letter from the Geological Survey concluded that an active fault between bore holes could exist.

A resident of the stadium neighborhood, Joanna Dwyer, who attended the court sessions, pointed out that public tax money pays for street upkeep around the stadium.

She questioned whether the convenience of a comparatively small number of people was worth the legal fees and possible future construction fees. She added that she believed it would be the City of Berkeley, not the Regents, whose job it would be to go to the rescue of victims if the stadium collapsed in a major earthquake.

California Oak Foundation attorney Stephan C. Volker said that “Indulging the fantasy
that the present stadium is a safe place for anyone is now anachronistic.” He added that “the time has come for the university to look elsewhere, move on, and protect the public.” When asked about the construction of an alternative stadium in a different Berkeley location, Volker said that everyone’s goal should be the safety of students, fans, and athletes.

A point of contention between plaintiffs and defendant is the meaning of the word “alteration” which the statute prohibits but does not precisely define. The plaintiffs believe that the California building code definition used in the Regents’ argument does not conform to legislative intent, but all parties have agreed to abide by the judge’s definition.
The building code defines “alteration” as construction that results in “any change in use or modification.” The Regents believe that the proposed structure does not modify the stadium use, and would result in the retrofit of the west wall.

Lozeau contends that the building code definition does not apply to the University proposal. He presented evidence that the proposed alterations would make the two structures into one by joining the new structure to the old insecure one.

Regents attorney Charles R. Olsen verbally refers to the new structure as “a separate building,” and at the same time, “a strengthening of the stadium’s foundation.”
Olsen was not available for comment during the break in the proceedings.

Volker said that the statute is designed to prevent people from investing money in additions and alterations to hazardous locations. He believes that cracks and other damage caused to the historic stadium from shifting Hayward plates have rendered it valueless.

He believes that the Regents will pursue an evaluation of the stadium that conforms to another directive of the Alquist-Priolo statute stating that repairs and additions to targeted buildings may not exceed fifty percent of the building’s current value.
Volker promised that in the case of a valuation that would allow the University to proceed, the plaintiffs “will be back in court and we will win again.”

The University estimates the cost of the new construction at $112 million.