The dark side of Cal
makes some people BLUE
22 October 2005
Cal: Smart students! Nobel prizes! Touchdowns! Is this what the blue and gold means to you? If so, you may not realize that along with the good comes a dark side that dominates the lives of those who live near UC. If gold reflects the prestige and glamour of UC Berkeley, then blue represents the bruised and distressed Berkeleyans who underwrite that glamour.
University construction fence blocking sidewalk and a lane of Hearst Ave. since September 2004 (photo: Daniella Thompson, 2004)
It is the immediate neighbors of UCB that bear its major burdens: traffic; parking problems; congestion; noise, litter, and other problems caused by some misbehaving students; and almost continuous construction impacts. Meanwhile, taxpayers citywide subsidize UCB with over $11 million per year. The damages will increase if the University adds 2.2 million square feet of new construction and over 5000 new campus users.
Berkeleyans for a Livable University Environment (BLUE) is an organization formed about two years ago by residents of neighborhoods near UCB, in response to increasing damage to Berkeleys quality of life caused by the University. BLUE believes that the University and the citizens of Berkeley must have a relationship of equity and mutual respect. BLUE acknowledges the many positive ways in which the University contributes to the community, but BLUE does not accept the status quo, in which the costs of University activities are disproportionately borne by the City and the surrounding community.
Southside: from historic neighborhood to high-rise dorms (photo: Daniella Thompson, 2005)
Now UCB and LBNL are poised to expand and increase their take. The City of Berkeley should do everything in its power to protect the citys residents from the increasing physical and financial burdens of these two institutions. Reducing the damage done to Berkeley residents by the University, and achieving a fair relationship between the City and the University, is vital to the future livability of our city.
BLUE is committed to creating a livable environment for everyone. Sadly, to the disbelief of informed observers, the City recently signed an agreement with UCB that permits all existing damage to continue, that does nothing to prevent further damage, and which even reduces Berkeleyans ability to create and protect our own downtown. This is why four members of BLUE are suing to stop the agreement.
For those who are not familiar with the blue that accompanies UCs gold, BLUE highlights the following major areas of community damage:
Transfer of the Commons
The commons are the shared resources of our urban environment that belong to us all. Over the decades, the University has expropriated more and more of Berkeleys commons. These include:
- Roadways, where over-intensity of UCB use increases traffic, municipal costs, and emergency access hazards.
- On-street parking spaces, which are removed from the City's commercial and residential use and transferred to UCB.
- Sidewalks, which are unnecessarily taken from public use during UCB construction.
- Historic resources, which have been compromised and destroyed by UCB projects.
- Open space, a limited resource that insofar as possible should be maintained for the pleasure of all Berkeleyans.
- Aesthetic resources, including views, mature trees, and freedom from noise pollutionall damaged by UCB.
- Natural resources such as groundwater and creeks, which UCB activities have diminished and contaminated.
Southside blight (photo: Daniella Thompson, 2005)
Intensely used, tax-exempt properties owned or leased by the University create a large hidden fiscal impact on Berkeley taxpayers. Services provided to UCB cost Berkeley taxpayers over $11 million annually, and other universities similar to UCB pay their host cities up to $14 million per year. Imagine the more beautiful and livable city we might have today if we had received $11 million per year for the past 30 years to improve downtown, Southside, and our poorer areas of town. With our limited resources and many vital civic projects going unfunded, Berkeleyans cannot continue to support this large and wealthy institution. The City should use all available means to garner substantial (not token) reimbursement; this is the ethical arrangement. Instead, UCB reimburses the City for about 10% of its cost burden.
Parking is a scarce resource around the core campus, where UCB monopolizes the parking commons for its own use, and local residents pay the price in increased hardship, traffic, pollution, noise, time, and money. All day, neighborhood streets near the campus function as UCB parking lots. In addition, several times per week thousands of visitors flock to venues such as Memorial Stadium, the Greek Theater, Zellerbach Hall, and Haas Pavilion, filling up neighborhood parking spaces. UCB should take steps to minimize and mitigate the parking problems it causes residents near the University.
Traffic on Piedmont Way (photo: Daniella Thompson, 2005)
The continuing increase in the number of commuters to both UCB and LBNL has greatly increased traffic and congestion in Berkeley. Access to both UCB and LBNL requires crossing the city, often through residential neighborhoods. Major special event traffic can bring many streets to a standstill. Significant changes are needed in UCBs and LBNLs transportation policies to remove UC traffic from neighborhoods throughout Berkeley.
Fortunately, many UCB students, staff, and professors live near and walk to campuswhich is one reason maintaining the livability of near-campus neighborhoods is vital. As UCB grows, we must protect and enhance pedestrian pleasure, safety, and access to the campus. Increased walkability will improve the neighborhood character of residential streets near campus (through trees, pedestrian lighting, eyes on the street, and crime reduction), and the economic vitality of commercial areas (through more local shopping, street seating, etc.). This will help increase property and sales taxes. Additionally, good walkability can help reduce auto use and ownership.
University truck at dawn on Ridge Road (photo: Jim Sharp, 2004)
The City currently allows UCB to commandeer neighborhood streets, sidewalks, and parking spaces, rather than requiring UCB to use its own available resources. UCB projects last several years, and parking and traffic problems, noise, dust, and other unpleasantness are not the only problem: UCB construction has caused long-term residents to move out of the neighborhoods where they are most needed. When proposed University construction begins downtown, businesses will die without adequate parking, vehicle and pedestrian access, and a pleasant shopping environment.
Memorial Stadium is a beloved structure, but its location creates substantial adverse impacts. These include citywide traffic problems; parking problems that extend over a mile from the stadium; event noise that permeates local neighborhoods; and patron behavior problems (noise, litter, public drunkenness, and petty delinquency) far beyond the stadiums surrounding neighborhoods. Straddling the Hayward Fault and attracting crowds of over 70,000 into a crowded area with narrow streets, the stadium poses a danger to spectators and neighbors alike in the event of a major earthquake, fire, or evacuation. UCBs determination to modernize the stadium and intensify use around it is wrongheaded, but if it goes forward, the University and the City must take extraordinary measures to reduce its damages and dangers.
Berkeleyans depend on Strawberry Canyon for open space, recreation, and its aesthetic contribution to our views and urban setting. Leaving aside any new University construction, ongoing UCB and LBNL activities in the canyon contaminate the canyon soil and its groundwater, which then moves downhill to pollute more of the City, including Strawberry Creek, which is daylighted in some parts of town. Again, the University transfers its damages to city residents.
So when Cal goes for the gold, lets not forget whos paying for it. We are.