Three Berkeley sites proposed for new LBL campus

The current Berkeley Lab campus in the hills above Berkeley/Photo: LBL

When officials from Berkeley Lab open proposals for a second campus today, there will be three Berkeley-based offers: one at Golden Gate Fields, and two separate projects near Aquatic Park, according to informed sources who asked not to be named.

The fact that there are three sites proposed in Berkeley may give the city a good shot at snaring the Lab’s expansion, since it is more than any other city is offering. Alameda, Emeryville, Dublin, Oakland, Walnut Creek, Albany and Richmond are also vying to grab the second campus, which is expected to generate thousands of jobs in the coming years.

Berkeley already houses the main campus for the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, which is one of a network of Department of Energy labs. Berkeley Lab is managed for the Department of Energy by the University of California.

The three proposed project sites for the second campus in Berkeley are:


  • A 12.5-acre parcel off Bolivar Drive near Aquatic Park. Michael and Steven Goldin, co-owners of Swerve, a modern furniture manufacturer, and the Jones family, who owns the land that once held American Soil, are joining their properties together for the proposal. This is raw land, so laboratory facilities would have to be constructed.
  • Wareham Development already leases hundreds of thousands of square feet of space to Berkeley Lab, including the Berkeley West Biocenter on Potter Street. Wareham is expected to offer a Berkeley-based proposal, an Emeryville-only based proposal and a joint Berkeley-Emeryville proposal with properties scattered around the region, according to knowledgeable sources.
  • A 30-acre parcel adjacent to Golden Gate Fields. The Canadian owner of the horse race track, now called MID, has been trying to develop land adjacent to the track for years. Now the company will offer the land, which straddles both Berkeley and Albany, to Berkeley Lab.

The Lab put out a Request For Qualifications for a second campus in January. The Lab is looking to consolidate four remote sites and allow room for further growth. The RFQ lists 20 criteria for the new site, including space for as much as 2 million square feet of research and development facilities and room for a 3,000-foot-long building for an Advanced Light Source facility.

The Lab will not make public the list of developers who submit proposals today, or where they are suggesting to locate a second campus, said Jon Weiner, the manager of community and media relations at the Lab. The Lab will release a shortlist of two to four potential sites in mid-April, with a goal of selecting the site in June, he said.

All the sites will be judged against the Richmond Field Station, which is already owned by the university.

The competition is expected to be fierce. Many cities, including Alameda and Dublin, have gone on record expressing their support for a second campus.

Berkeley, in contrast, has not taken an official position. Many city officials said they have refrained from doing so in order not to muddy the discussion currently taking place about rezoning large swaths of West Berkeley. They want to avoid the impression that the city is making the changes in West Berkeley expressly for the Lab. (The City Council is scheduled to vote on the West Berkeley plan on March 22.)

“We didn’t want to confuse issues around the Lab with the West Berkeley initiative,” said Councilmember Laurie Capitelli. “From my perspective it’s totally coincidental that these two issues are happening at the same time… I wish they had done [the RFQ for the Lab] six months ago, or waited six months.”

Mayor Tom Bates also said that the West Berkeley plan had been in the works for years. “It’s not about the Lab,” he said. “It’s about a chance to revitalize West Berkeley.”

In fact, the Berkeley Lab will not have to conform to local zoning requirements since it is a government entity and is exempt from following those laws. But the Lab did say that one criterion for choosing a site will be the community’s interest.

Individual city council members, including Capitelli, wrote generic letters of support for the Lab. All those submitting proposals can include those letters.

A letter by Bates and City Manager Phil Kamlarz emphasized Berkeley’s amenities, which the Lab also asked to be detailed in the RFQ.

“[Berkeley] has, by far, the most highly educated population in the East Bay,” the letter reads. “It has beautiful physical amenities such as views, parks and the largest marina in Northern California. It also has world-class restaurants and cultural amenities all within easy reach. Its proposed sites are well served by transit and the most easily accessed of other regional contenders, offering both greater convenience and environmental efficiency. Berkeley’s high quality of life and ‘cachet’ as home to a world-class university would be quite useful in efforts to attract top academics and researchers. Finally, Berkeley’s regional role as a place where innovation and entrepreneurship occur has never been as clear as it is today.”