Richmond reacts to Berkeley Global Campus suspension

Protesters gather outside California Hall during Chancellor Dirks' announcement on August 25, 2016. Photo by Jacob Shea.

Protesters gather outside UC Berkeley's California Hall during Chancellor Nicholas Dirks' announcement on August 25, 2016. Photo by Jacob Shea.

The news that plans for the Berkeley Global Campus at Richmond Bay have been indefinitely suspended has elicited a mix of reactions across the city.

“I just think that it’s sad,” said Richmond resident Kevin Calligan. “Why can’t Richmond have a university?”

“It would have been a good thing for Richmond,” said resident Calvin Sheperd. “It would have been a global landmark.”

The project, a partnership between UC Berkeley and the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, would have built a 5.4 million-square-foot research facility on the site of the Richmond Field Station, a 170-acre swath of uplands and marshlands, to foster collaborations among researchers from across the globe. The campus was expected to bring 10,000 people to the site and drive local economic growth in sectors such as transportation and health.

Over the last 18 months, plans for the campus had developed in partnership with the Richmond Community Working Group, a consortium of community representatives who advocated for increased community benefits and involvement in the project. Working group member Lawrence Stirling Robinsin, a community organizer with Safe Return Project, expressed not just disappointment but frustration in response to the news that the project had come to a halt.

“Eighteen months of meetings, countless meetings, countless negotiations, bringing stakeholders around the table, all not agreeing to cut side deals, to work in a collective manner…to come to nothing,” he said.

At City Hall, news of the suspension prompted heated reactions. In an e-newsletter released on August 26, Mayor Tom Butt wrote, “The [Richmond Progressive Alliance] and their allied organizations have made it a political priority to use the Richmond Global campus project to shake down UC Berkeley like an almond tree, but it has finally backfired.”

The Richmond Progressive Alliance responded with a statement that accused the mayor of “politicizing the issue.”

But not all were riled up by the news.

Richmond City Manager Bill Lindsay said that he was optimistic about the project’s future, because university officials were weighing other long-term plans for the site, including housing and partnering with a research and development institution to build a new research facility.

“As I see it, I’m really hopeful that this represents another page turn in the process to develop the site to its full potential,” Lindsay said.

A statement released by the office of UC Berkeley Chancellor Nicholas Dirks on August 25th said that the administration would “continue to explore options for the site” even as it was suspending immediate plans due to “significant budgetary challenges.” Over the past year, the university has been grappling with a budget deficit hovering near $150 million and a series of high-profile sexual harassment cases that have drawn national attention. On August 16th, nine days before announcing the suspension of the Global Campus project, Dirks had announced his resignation as chancellor.

UC Berkeley’s Dan Mogulof, Executive Director of Communications and Public Affairs for the Office of the President, confirmed that the university needed a “sustainable financial foundation” before moving forward with plans for the Richmond Bay site.

“The disappointment is certainly palpable,” said Berkeley News Executive Director of Communication and Media Relations Roqua Montez—but, he added, an indefinite suspension is not necessarily a termination.

Back in Richmond, that distinction didn’t offer much solace to some. Said local café owner Tim Manhart, “I am disappointed that this not happening for Richmond, because it could have been an amazing opportunity.”

6 Comments

  1. Bill

    Nice work, RPA and RCWG. Unlike Chevron, which has fixed infrastructure that it is trying to defend, UC has options and can walk if the terms of the deal are unacceptable. I wouldn’t hold my breath waiting for UC to come back to Richmond any time soon.

    • Linda F.

      UC doesn’t have options because it doesn’t have the funds. There were never any funds for the Richmond campus. It was “pie in the sky” all along. Dirks hoped someone would take the bait, but no one did. It’s ridiculous to criticize the RPA because Berkeley suspended the idea. What are they taking away? Berkeley had put nothing down!

  2. Rob W

    The RPA refuses to admit that their tactics negatively affected the fundraising efforts for the BGC.
    A BGC spokesperson publicly stated otherwise.

    From the East Bay Times;

    Ruben Lizardo, a spokesman for the Berkeley Global Campus, said he understood concerns about fair pay and using union labor but said the University of California already had many similar provisions in place, including a plan to pay even the lowest-skilled workers $15 an hour and use local workers. And he agreed with the mayor that negative comments about the project, including fears that it would hasten gentrification, had made it more difficult for the university to pursue this project.
    “When you have a lot of negative press about folks who are saying the project will have a negative impact, it sends a mixed message to potential investors and gives pause to any university interested in partnering with us,” Lizardo said.

    The RPA refuses to take a hard look at themselves and consider that perhaps their tactics and extreme ideology is divisive and counter productive.
    I strongly urge Richmond voters to reconsider whether or not blindly voting for the RPA is actually in the best interests of the citizens of Richmond.
    There are better independent minded liberal candidates running this election who would best serve the interests of ALL our citizens. Choose wisely.

    • Chris Darling

      It is absolutely untrue that the RPA had anything to do with the cancellation of this plan. There was no funding and that ultimately is about UC not getting anything from the state of California for it and being unable to raise private funding. Even if there were no demands from RPA and UC were able to pay all of its support staff the Federal minimum wage, there would still be no project because labor costs are not that much of what was needed. It costs a lot to build 5.4 million square feet of office and research space and that is what doomed this project.

      • Rob W

        So Chris , what then do you make of Berkeley Global Campus spokesperson Reubens Lizardo statement to the contrary? He says that the RPA’S actions made it more difficult to raise money. Lizardo also backed up Mayor Butts comments on the issue. I would say that the facts seem to indicate that your statement is the one that is untrue. Is it possible you are incapable of accepting that you may be wrong about this? Think about it.

  3. Richmond Voter

    Rob, any recommendations on these better independent minded liberal candidates? Trying to figure out who to vote for for City council… Thanks!

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