Richmond named as finalist in Lawrence Berkeley National Lab campus bid

Councilman Jeff Ritterman stresses the importance of bringing the prestigious Berkeley lab to Richmond at a city council meeting in March. (photo by Robert Rogers)

Councilman Jeff Ritterman stresses the importance of bringing the prestigious Berkeley lab to Richmond at a city council meeting in March. (photo by Robert Rogers)

Richmond moved forward yesterday in the competition to be the site for a second campus of the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (LBNL).  The city’s Richmond Field Station, already owned by UC Berkeley, is one of six finalists.  Other finalists are in Berkeley, Alameda, Albany, and Oakland.

LBNL has outgrown its current location in the hills above UC Berkeley, and Richmond has long looked to the site as part of a plan to bolster the city’s growing green- and clean-technology sector.

Richmond Mayor Gayle McLaughlin says that the city has been committed to greening the city’s footprint and the lab’s research focus is compatible with the city’s trajectory. “The research goals of LBNL promoting clean energy and innovation is right in line with our healthy direction for our residents and our planet,” McLaughlin said in an email.  “Having LBNL’s second campus here will add to our already burgeoning local green economy.”

The Richmond Field Station, a collection of buildings just south of Interstate 580 on 46th Street, already houses much of UC Berkeley’s large-scale engineering research.  The planned campus would include up to 2 million square feet of space for research and development facilities, which Richmond City Councilmember Jeff Ritterman says would be easy to add to the existing infrastructure at the Richmond Field Station.  “It’s easy to build on because it is flat, and it’s not going to flood,” he said.

Ritterman says the site sells itself because of its location right off the highway and close to the campus.  Plus, it has wonderful views of the San Francisco Bay.   “If you want to put a campus of researchers who want to get together and collaborate and come up with the research solutions for today’s problems and the problems of tomorrow,” he said. “You’re putting them in a great site.”

Councilmember Ritterman believes citing the new lab in Richmond could be a boon to the city.  “I think it will also strengthen the whole educational atmosphere around Richmond,” he said. “The university needs more minority students and we need to upgrade our whole education system all the way through.  We need to be producing some of those Ph.D’s who are going to save us from ourselves.”

It’s too early to tell how many jobs or how much revenue the city might expect from a deal with the lab, but the mayor says she’s hopeful that if Richmond wins the LBNL second campus, it will bring jobs and inspire more green businesses to set up shop in town.

The lab, which is managed by the University of California and supported in part by the U.S. Department of Energy, employs roughly 4,200 workers and contributes about $700 million into the East Bay economy, according to its own statistics.  About 20 percent of those researchers now work at satellite labs scattered throughout the East Bay.  The second campus would bring those scientists together in one place, which would provide a substantial scientific benefit, according to a LBNL press release, by allowing researchers to “interact more directly with each other and with faculty and students from throughout the UC system.”

In a press release, Congressman George Miller, D-Richmond, said that getting the second campus would put a sheen on Richmond’s image.  “Berkeley Lab’s breakthroughs on some of the most pressing scientific questions are world famous,” he said. “And bringing the Lab’s track record of innovation and imagination to Richmond would be a major point of pride for our community.”

The site will be selected by the summer, but now the lab is predicting a decision in late November.  The site would begin operations by mid-2016.

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