March 23, 2007

Jeff Philliber
Environmental Planning Group
Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory
One Cyclotron Road, MS 90J-0120
Berkeley, California 94720

Re:  Comments on the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory 2006 Long Range Development Plan Draft Environmental Impact Report

Dear Jeff Philliber:

The Berkeley Architectural Heritage Association (BAHA) appreciates this opportunity to comment on the Draft Environmental Impact Report (DEIR) for the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (LBNL) Long Range Development Plan (LRDP). BAHA, a long standing membership organization dedicated to the education, encouragement, and protection of Berkeley’s unique historic environment, is commenting in its capacity as a public stake holder with serious concerns about the profound environmental impacts that these plans would have upon the irreplaceable assets of Strawberry Canyon as a Cultural Landscape.

The LRDP, a programmatic document only, proposes to utilize the Strawberry Canyon area for almost a million square feet of new and, as of yet, unconstructed building space and to create 500 additional parking spaces for 1,000 new employees. Concurrently, the project objectives are proposed to strengthen, expand, and design for new institutional growth. While these projected plans and objectives would appear to be rational and in sync with current institutional research practices or business models, they are, in reality, not logical or socially responsible at this location. The natural and physical terrain of the hillside area, plus the University’s plans already proposed in the adjoining Southeast Campus, and the significance of Strawberry Canyon as a Cultural Landscape make this proposal not only unwelcome but hard to believe.

At this juncture, the environmental review in the LRDP is lacking an adequate understanding of the project scale and building(s) mass that would be needed to fulfill the programmatic plans outlined in the DEIR. The stated intent to expand current facilities and to rehabilitate current facilities is too vague. The sketchy “illustrative design” concepts portraying the physical imprint of potential “new scientific facilities” are insufficient. There is a need to disclose true architectural plans, including magnitude, location, height, design, materials, mechanical apparatus, and waste systems of such building(s) providing for such “national” research facilities “programmed to accommodate multiple disciplines in advanced infrastructure suitable for future scientific endeavors [... and] to support future research initiatives and continued growth in existing programs” that might serve the combined uses of academic research, federal/state interests, and industrial capital/business interests. Lacking such full disclosure at this juncture, the following questions are posed:

  • Which existing LBNL facilities would be expanded?

  • Which existing LBNL facilities would be rehabilitated?

  • How would existing facilities and rehabilitated facilities connect physically to "new scientific facilities" in order to "enhance collaboration, productivity, and efficiency?"

  • Will the Final EIR disclose full architectural plans for all the buildings needed to fulfill the programmatic plans and project objectives outlined in the DEIR?

  • Will any LBNL contracts with outside state/federal and private industry be available for public review at the time of the Final EIR?

  • Will any LBNL contracts with outside state/federal and private industry be completed at the time of the Final EIR?

  • How will the California Governor’s pledge to secure $40 million, or more, determine the size, scope, demands of the projected “new scientific facilities”?
In the case of the “illustrative design” building concept(s) in the DEIR, sited across from the University’s historic Botanical Garden and next to the Stephen Mather Redwood Grove, the following questions seem appropriate now to ask: 
  • Why would “new scientific facilities” of such magnitude be placed across from the University’s Botanical Garden, a cultural resource ranking with other major Botanical Gardens as the one of the world’s leading Gardens in the number of plants it contains?

  • Would not the “new scientific facilities” adversely effect the integrity of the adjacent California Area, the largest area of the Botanical Garden that boasts of having the largest area devoted to a regional collection of native plants?

  • What would the effect of an industrial-park-like-development be upon the necessary mild climate that sustains the Botanical Garden?

  • How would the LBNL “new scientific facilities” complex, including parking, effect the natural flow of water in the Botanical Garden?

  • Is it not alarming that the LBNL “new scientific facilities” complex, including parking, be proposed adjacent to the Mather Redwood Grove, thus removing a context area that defines its integrity?

  • Is the projected location for “new scientific facilities” the only location in Strawberry Canyon that could accommodate new building(s) and parking of that magnitude?
As a public stake holder it is expected that BAHA, would concur with the finding of the DEIR that the LRDP, as proposed, would cause “significant” environmental impacts. The public health and safety issues alone—such as water pollution, air pollution, landslides, earthquakes, acts of terrorism, traffic congestion, and extreme fire hazards—are conspicuous. Strawberry Canyon is a special place defined by a natural environment that is already under the stress of over-development. Further alteration of its geologically formed hillsides—formed by the timeless interaction of earthquakes, water flow, and precipitation off the Pacific Ocean—to accommodate unlimited “new scientific facilities” is indeed an alarming proposal. BAHA joins the City’s Planning Commission and Landmarks Preservation Commission in requesting that alternatives be sought elsewhere on University-owned property. The following questions seem critical to understand:
  • Why would the LBNL LRDP DEIR finding of “significant” environmental impacts be “unavoidable” (italics ours) when the University owns property elsewhere that is potentially suitable for scientific research and development?

  • What property owned by the University in Richmond has been set aside for potential University research and development?

  • When was University property in Richmond identified as a potential for research and development?

  • Is any of the University property in Richmond contaminated?

  • Is any of the University’s Strawberry Canyon property contaminated?

Given the current practice of global partnerships and collaborations, technological flexibility, and shared advanced research locations, why would the LBNL LRDP project objective be limited to one main site within the University’s Berkeley area?

Would not LBNL elect to give leadership to environmental solutions that will have a positive local, regional environmental impact as well as to global environmental solutions?

The University of California at Berkeley and LBNL gained their historic roots because of Strawberry Canyon. As early as the 1850s, the site was recognized to be a provider of constant water, making possible the location for a future educational institution. The sense of place then was poetic for those who selected the site:

The line of the horizon sweeps in the distance round almost half a circle, commencing at the summit near New Almaden and following a mountain line till it passes west of [San Francisco], where it becomes an ocean horizon for a considerable distance [...] The extent, the variety of the life embraced in the scenery presented in this view, including as it does land and water, bay and ocean, islands, plains and mountains, city and country, are seldom equaled.

       Rev. S. H. Willey, 1858

Later, in 1865, Frederick Law Olmsted, America’s father of landscape architecture, was to describe the dramatic impressions of the “steep declivities of the coast range” and the “native foliage of a very beautiful character” that defined the effect of Strawberry Canyon as it graced what would become the urban town. The origins of LBNL in Strawberry Canyon, beginning in the WWII era, should be remembered as having its origin in such a rustic and unapproachable area because of the need to have a nearly secret and inaccessible location.

   Again, BAHA takes the lead from the City’s Landmarks Preservation Commission, which responded to the DEIR with the comment, “the Strawberry Canyon Area is a potential Cultural Landscape [... that] the DEIR does not acknowledge the adverse impacts [...] therefore, alternatives, including alternative sites for the proposed development(s), need to be identified and analyzed in the FEIR.”

Thank you for your attention to BAHA’s comments and for your consideration of BAHA’s concerns.


Wendy Markel, President

Copyright © 2007 BAHA. All rights reserved.