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.”