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Richmond Bay Campus faces delays

on September 22, 2013

In 40 years, a humble scattering of buildings along Richmond’s south shoreline could become an internationally recognized hub for scientific research. It could end up supporting 10,000 employees and residents, and covering an area the size of 90 football fields.

But presently, the site remains just a small cluster of offices, warehouses and labs, primarily used by UC Berkeley for engineering projects, and there is uncertainty about when the project will start.

In 2012, UC Berkeley, the Lawrence Berkeley National Labs and the city of Richmond announced a partnership to develop the Richmond Bay Campus. The campus would consolidate Berkeley researchers at a single site—currently they’re strewn amongst a number of labs in the East Bay. The Bay Campus project has the potential to make the city an epicenter for bioscience, health and energy research.

But money woes at the Lawrence Labs have temporarily halted construction. Still, all parties involved in the project remain optimistic about its future.

“Funding is always going to be an issue when you have an organization that relies on government support,” Richmond City Manager Bill Lindsay said. “But this is a forty-year build out we’re talking about, so you have to keep it in perspective.”

Lawrence Labs planned to break ground on the site in 2015. However, a series of financial setbacks have caused delay. Because of sequestration, the 2014 presidential budget has allotted no money for new building projects at the lab. Last week, the lab also lost a $1.5 billion grant to build the world’s most advanced X-ray microscope.

While this has slowed down construction, the lab is pressing on. “At this point, we continue to work with UC Berkeley to envision compatible and synergistic research programs in energy and the environment,” Dan Krotz, a spokesperson for the lab, stated in an email.

The University of California is also having financial struggles. It faces a budget shortfall of $2.9 billion by 2017, according to a recently released budget summary.

Dan Mogulof, a public affairs representative for UC Berkeley, said state and federal cutbacks would not impact the university’s development plans at the Richmond campus. “Our funding was never going to come from the state or federal government,” he said. “We always knew we would have to be creative and innovative in financing [and] we’re looking at all sorts of possibilities.”

There aren’t any private partners attached to the project yet, but the university recently hired a development manager to deal with funding options.

Meanwhile, the Richmond city government is preparing to build the site. City officials say they are working with UC Berkeley and the Lawrence Labs to finalize the development plans, and hope to have an environmental impact review certified by next May.

The campus won’t pay property tax-revenues because it’s on public land, but Lindsay said that the project would benefit the local economy. “It will have an indirect effect on local property values and sales taxes,” he said. “It’s a job generator, both in terms of construction and ongoing jobs for Richmond community.”

The campus also has the potential to help revitalize Richmond’s south shoreline. “I’m hoping that this becomes a real community amenity,” said Lindsey, “that it becomes a place where the Richmond community wants to go.”

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Richmond Confidential is an online news service produced by the UC Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism for, and about, the people of Richmond, California. Our goal is to produce professional and engaging journalism that is useful for the citizens of the city.

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