Richmond makes pitch for coveted Berkeley lab

Jeff Ritterman addressing the public.

Councilman Jeff Ritterman stresses the importance of bringing the prestigious Berkeley lab to Richmond. (photo by Robert Rogers)

One of the world’s foremost labs for scientific research is looking for some new space, and Richmond has put its best forward.

City officials announced Tuesday that Richmond has made its formal pitch to be the site of the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory’s next campus.

More than 100 residents who attended the special council meeting Tuesday night were shown a five-minute video produced by KCRT-TV extolling the benefits of doing business in Richmond.

The video featured several local business owners and entrepreneurs, each of whom spoke of local virtues such as affordable land, growth potential and strong support from city agencies. The video also highlighted the city’s 32 miles of shoreline and transportation infrastructure, making the case the such conditions make Richmond a desirable place to live and work.

Richmond has seen some positive trends in recent years, including a steady drop in crime and development of several green start-up businesses, but it remains saddled with an unemployment rate of more than 18 percent, according to city statistics.

Richmond city leaders have long coveted the prospect of drawing the lab, which has outgrown its lone location in Berkeley’s Strawberry Canyon and must expand. The lab, which is supported in part by the U.S. Department of Energy, employs more than 4,000 workers and contributes about $700 million into the East Bay economy, according to its own statistics.

Although long thought to be the favorite to lure the lab – thanks to the University of California already owns a largely unused 90-acre field station in the city – Richmond faces competition from a handful of other East Bay cities.  The lab received proposals from developers in seven other cities by its March 4 deadline: Oakland, Berkeley, Emeryville, Albany, Alameda, Walnut Creek and Dublin.

Councilman Jeff Ritterman said residents can be assured that the city made the best pitch it could to draw the prestigious lab.

“This was a remarkable effort that involved a symphony of people,” Ritterman said.

Residents at the Tuesday night meeting were generally receptive to the video and the pitch made by city leaders, but a few mentioned during public comment that the city must improve basic amenities.

“Look at our bus stops, how raggedy they are,” said longtime resident Sims Thompson. Thompson said seniors must brave sun and rain while waiting for the bus, and that the city needs better hotels and other hospitality businesses.

Another resident expressed concern about increased traffic.

But city leaders were united in their belief that drawing the lab could be an economic breakthrough for the city.

“Without jobs we can’t make those improvements,” said Councilman Corky Booze in response to the residents’ concerns. Booze called the lab a tremendous opportunity, and referred to the University of California as the kind of “quality partner” the city welcomes as it changes and grows.

“We are no longer the crime-ridden city that people have called us,” Booze said. “The stigma is lifting.”

Ritterman said the lab will pare down to a short list of frontrunners next month, at which point city leaders and developers will embark on further discussions and negotiations with lab officials. City leaders a confident they will make the short list, but the lab’s final decision is not yet assured.

A final decision is expected this summer.

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