Something Rotten with Sports Field Deal
L A Wood, Berkeley Voice, January 14, 2000
Last month, the city approved the purchase of the University
of California's Fourth and Harrison streets parcel to
make way for a sports facility at the West Berkeley industrial lot.
The pending sale has added sparks to an already heated
public debate over the feasibility of constructing a children's playing
field complex amidst the smokestacks of Berkeley's manufacturing district
and the auto traffic emissions of Interstate 80. Among the many points
of concern has been the UC practice of dumping its construction soils
and debris on the Harrison lot and the impact that these activities
have had on the site's soil investigations.
The public challenge to an incomplete Harrison evaluation
has been met by the city's Toxics Management Division's insistence that
the environmental review is adequate and staff's repeated assurances
of future soil sampling.
All of this now appears to be moot by UC's most recent
move to cover up more of the site with soils from its current Albany
Village construction project.
It hardly takes a soil scientist to understand the likely
impact on the toxic profile of this acreage by this practice. It may
be difficult to estimate whether all the fill soils from the Albany
Village area were clean, but there's no question that this current dumping
has obfuscated the results of the soil investigations paid for by the
city in 1997. UC's soil dumping has severely distorted this year's California
Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) review of the site as well. Even the
state's Department of Toxic Substances Control, the "big guns"
called in by the city's Toxics Division to legitimize their soil investigations,
have been left with little choice but to look the other way.
The city, DTSC, and especially UC know full well that
the university's actions have invalidated the past site soil investigations,
and that these cavalier actions are not likely to receive any challenge.
It is not difficult to see that UC has very conveniently
avoided a meaningful CEQA review, and hence, avoided the public process.
Whether the City's actions are simply unethical or actually
illegal will most likely remain undetermined.
Why have the city, the purchaser of the property and DTSC
being so silent on this matter? City staff's posturing over the quality
of its soil investigations and their overt dismissal of public criticism
is a bit ridiculous when taken in context of UC's latest dumping activities.
In fact, this most recent dumping of soils took place
a few days after the property had been placed in escrow. UC's activities
are highly irregular given the sale and escrow, the ongoing site evaluations,
and that no use permit has been issued for this property.
No less questionable is the city's intent to develop a
recreational complex with a nonprofit group called the Association of
Sports Field Users.
Perhaps to some it would seem impertinent to ask about
the legality of the city developing an ordinance for any group who would
stand to benefit financially. Yet a recent public records request revealed
that in July, 1999, barely six months after ASFU was chartered, the
city manager signed a professional services contract providing for up
to $24,000 to facilitate the participation of ASFU and their consultants
at city meetings, and of course, to design and develop the $2 million
The ASFU contract issued by the city manager may not be
subject to a competitive bid process, but it appears that this July
1999 contract has in effect created the waiver of the city's competitive
bidding requirement for the Harrison Playing Fields Project.
This was five months before this project was legally considered
by the Berkeley City Council and an ASFU ordinance enacted. ASFU's inside
track and back room maneuvering of the city weren't publicly revealed
until the December meeting of the Parks and Recreation Commission where
city staff lobbied for the proposed ordinance with ASFU as the single
candidate, a candidate already working on the project with the city
It should be noted that under the city's design and building
contract guidelines, all work must clearly constitute schematic and
programmatic design work described for the fields project. Even the
city attorney's office recognizes the difficulty of maintaining this
thin legal line.
It appears that city staff working on this project have
been caught nudging the cart a little ahead of the horse, Moreover,
this special ordinance is being drafted exclusively for ASFU, which
has absolutely no track record. The ASFU ordinance provides a waiver for competitive bidding,
prevailing wages, and certain bonding requirements. And if ASFU is also
awarded the yearly maintenance and management contract and possession
of the gate keys, this special interest effort should be recorded in
the history books as a politically orchestrated "perfect game."
Finally, those who have been able to sort through
this Harrison saga and are able to hear over the dull roar of the soccer
crowds, may now understand why some Berkeleyians say that more stinks
about the UC Harrison property and playing fields project than its undeniably
poor air quality.