Aquatic Park, with its spectacular views of the Bay, San Francisco and the hills, plus access to recreation and transportation — not to mention Fourth Street dining — would be the ideal place for a second Lawrence Berkeley National Lab campus.
That’s what developers, city officials, folks from Berkeley’s business community and other supporters told lab representatives Thursday evening at a packed community meeting showcasing the bid from Aquatic Park West. Developers would like to build the lab’s second campus on Aquatic Park’s east shore.
Critics also showed up, questioning development impacts on wildlife habitat, the use of hazardous materials at the lab and their storage, and asking whether there would be benefits from the project for the area’s low-income residents.
The Aquatic Park West developers are competing against five other finalists for the right to develop a 2 million square foot project that will consolidate 480,000 square feet of lab facilities and some 800 workers now scattered in Walnut Creek, Emeryville, Oakland and West Berkeley. Berkeley Lab is also considering proposals from Richmond — where UC Berkeley already owns the proposed site (UC Berkeley manages the labs for the Department of Energy) — as well as Alameda, Oakland, Albany-Berkeley (at Golden Gate Fields, ), and scattered sites in Emeryville-Berkeley.
One of the Aquatic Park site’s key selling points is the drive time between the main lab campus and Aquatic Park — 10-to-14 minutes, according to a promotional video. “No one has to travel on our congested freeways,” said Joe DeCredico of GDeS Architecture and Planning, a member of the development team. “All we have to do is jump on the shuttle, jump on a bus, hop on your bike, and you can commute between the campuses.”
Speakers contrasted the drive time to the Richmond site, which was estimated at 20 to 25 minutes and noted that the shorter drive time and available public transportation from outside the city — Amtrak, rapid bus, bike from BART — would help Berkeley arrive at its goals to cut greenhouse gas emissions.
The site proposed is about 12 acres adjacent to Aquatic Park. “These will not be extremely big buildings,” said Adam Glaser, an architect with Stantec/Anshen and member of the development team. “The nature of collaborative science is that we want more of a horizontal development and less of a vertical one. We are looking at two and four-story buildings.” He cautioned, however, that the plan is “very, very preliminary.”
Building height was a particular concern to a number of people who spoke during the public comment period.
Mary White, who lives and works near the proposed project, presented a letter of concern from the that said if buildings were to go to the permitted 75 feet, there is a risk of collisions to birds. “Collisions, especially with tall buildings, kill approximately 1 billion birds in North America each year, one of the most significant sources of non-natural mortality for birds. All large buildings pose some risks, but they are particularly exacerbated by buildings and windows adjacent to a sensitive area with a high density of bird use, such as Aquatic Park,” the letter said.
Norman LaForce, representing the Golden Gate chapter of the Sierra Club, expressed similar concerns for impacts on waterfowl that use Aquatic Park as a resting place on their migration routes. He also raised the issue of increasing nighttime lighting at the park, which would disturb the wildlife. is calling for buildings to have 100-foot set backs from the water and height limits of 45 feet. (It should be noted that the university is exempt from following the city’s zoning laws, which permit 75 feet on that site.)
Developer Ali Kashani downplayed the critics, saying “There is a new regime in Berkeley” that is development-friendly. “You’ll benefit from this wonderful leadership,” he told lab officials.
In fact, Councilmembers Darryl Moore, Laurie Capitelli, Linda Maio and Mayor Tom Bates have been outspoken in their support for siting the project in Berkeley — this project or one of the other two partially in the city — as have City Manager Phil Kamlarz and Economic Development Director Michael Caplan. The question of support for the project, however, was not presented to the city council in a public forum.
While praising the project, City Manager Phil Kamlarz raised the concern that, if the labs own or rent property in West Berkeley, it will come off the property tax roles. Councilmember Darryl Moore, countered that the funds brought in by locating the labs in West Berkeley — funds spent and recycled in the area — would more than make up for the loss in property tax revenue.
Questions, however, on what is actually proposed persist. “I am very disturbed about the real lack of detail on all the issues related to all of these sites,” LaForce said. “To ask people to support a particular site or endorse a particular site one really needs to know what are the financial implications. What are the heights? And what is really going to happen environmentally?”
Berkeley Lab officials plan to select their preferred site by November. After that, a detailed project must be made public and an environmental review process will ensue, which is expected to take about two years.
“The devil is in the details,” Kamlarz quipped.