Partial victory for opponents of U.C. Berkeley sports center plan

A judge has given a partial victory to opponents of the University of California, Berkeley's $125 million plan to build a new sports training center and other facilities next to its aging football stadium, which sits on top of the Hayward earthquake fault.

But Alameda County Superior Court Judge Barbara Miller, in an order issued late Monday, said she won't issue a final ruling on lawsuits aimed at stopping the project until Feb. 6 because she wants the parties in the case to submit more evidence on the question of whether the project is an entirely separate structure or is an alteration or addition to the existing stadium.

Miller, who issued a preliminary injunction against the project on Jan. 29 and held a seven-day non-jury trial in September and October on the merits of the case in September and October, rejected the university's argument that the Alquist-Priolo Earthquake Fault Zoning Act doesn't apply to its so-called Student Athlete High Performance Center.

Miller agreed with three plaintiff groups who filed suit against the project in December of 2006 that the university is subject to the act and the act prohibits alterations or additions to existing structures for human occupancy built across earthquake faults where the cost of the alteration or addition will exceed half the value of the existing structure.

Miller said she agreed with project opponents that “as far as the record shows, the university never considered whether (the sports training center) was an alteration or addition to Memorial Stadium (the football stadium) for purposes of compliance with the act.”

However, Miller ordered the parties in the closely-watched case to present expert testimony and argument about the university's fall-back position that the sports training center was designed as a separate structure.

Further evidence and legal briefs are due by Dec. 31.

Miller, who initially had been expected to rule several weeks after the trial ended on Oct. 11, said she now expects to rule by Feb. 6 “unless a further extension of time is needed for the parties to prepare their evidentiary submissions or objections thereto.”

The judge said, “It is not the court's intention to delay the resolution of these proceedings in the trial court any longer than necessary.”

Stephen Volker, the attorney for the California Oak Foundation, one of the plaintiffs in the case, said, “We are pleased that the court has rejected the university's claim that it is exempt from the Alquist-Priolo Act.”

Volker said, “We are confident that we will prevail on the university's only remaining defense and that the court will declare (the sports training center) unlawful because it violates the act.”

He said, “The university should not be allowed to sidestep its duty to protect the safety of the students entrusted to its care by denying its obligations under this important earthquake safety statute.”

The other plaintiffs in the case are the city of Berkeley and a neighborhood group called the Panoramic Hill Association.

UC-Berkeley spokesman Dan Mogulof said, “We welcome the opportunity to provide evidence from engineering experts that will show that the sports training center is clearly a separate structure.”

Mogulof said the university had hoped that there would be a final decision before the end of the year but those concerns are outweighed by the opportunity to present additional evidence which it believes will support its position.

— Bay City News

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