Lab choice may prove beneficial to Berkeley in long term

Officials ready for the press conference announcing Richmond as the new site for the second campus of LBNL. Photo: Frances Dinkelspiel

By Lance Knobel and Frances Dinkelspiel

In late September and early October, Dr. Jeff Ritterman, a member of the Richmond City Council, went down to Berkeley West Biocenter on Potter Street, one of the divisions of Lawrence Berkeley National Lab. Both times, Dr. Ritterman arrived before 8 am and staked out a spot in front of the entrance. As scientists came to work, Dr. Ritterman handed them a 4×6 postcard with a picture of the Richmond shoreline, signed by a resident of that city. It was a pitch for placing LBNL’s second campus in Richmond.

“I knew the decision would be important to (lab) employees,” said Dr. Ritterman, who served as head of cardiology at Kaiser Richmond for 30 years and became a city councilman in 2009. “I knew people had some concerns about Richmond and I wanted to reassure them and make an extra effort.”

Dr. Jeff Ritterman, a member of the Richmond City Council

While Dr. Ritterman’s outreach efforts were only a small part of the city’s pitch to lure Berkeley Lab to town, it was emblematic of the city’s enthusiasm. On Monday, at a press conference in Richmond packed with lab officials, city employees, a Congressman, a state senator, the UC Berkeley Chancellor and other dignitaries, it became official: the second campus of the LBNL will be in Richmond. The city beat out Berkeley, Oakland, Emeryville, and Alameda.

Richmond’s eagerness for the second campus apparently played an important role in the city’s selection. Speaker after speaker mentioned the huge crowds that attended the information sessions or expressed their support in other ways.

“An outstanding show of community support occurred in Richmond,” said Paul Alivisatos, the director of the lab.

UC Berkeley already owns the 120-acre Richmond Field Station where the second campus will be located. It also became clear during the press conference that the ability to build even more structures on this site in the future, and create a de facto additional campus for Cal, played a large role in the site’s selection.

“We’ve had a long time presence here,” said Chancellor Robert Birgeneau. “Now with the addition of the Lawrence Berkeley Lab to the site, we will certainly achieve  a critical mass that will make this one of the premier research centers, not just in the county, or the state, but the country as a whole.”

Cal has been “space limited in the city of Berkeley,” and the difficulty in expanding has meant the university has lost out on some important international endeavors, such as a solar observatory, said Birgeneau. Lots of countries, including China and Japan, want to partner with Cal, but have been constrained by space. Now they will be able to set up shop on the Richmond campus.

“Instead of exporting jobs we will be importing jobs,” he said.

While Richmond city officials were gleeful on Monday, the mood was more subdued in Berkeley. The announcement this morning that Richmond Field Station had been chosen for the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory second campus  disappointed many who had been pushing one of the three Berkeley-related sites, but it wasn’t completely unexpected. And several senior officials also believe the decision may prove beneficial to Berkeley in the long run.

“We’re disappointed, but not surprised,” said Michael Caplan, Economic Development Manager for Berkeley. “We had been hopeful that they might choose a site closer to their main campus, which would have favored one of the three Berkeley sites. But we knew cost was a factor.”

Mayor Tom Bates said: “Richmond Field Station is an excellent site and I’m very happy for them. Now we can look forward to spin-off businesses from the Lab, with product ideas that are ready to go to market, coming to West Berkeley,” he said. “Some mayors might be parochial, but I take the view that we all benefit from this,” Bates said, citing the Green Corridor initiative which aims to create a thriving green technology area in the East Bay.

Design for the Richmond Field Station campus

RFS is already owned by the University of California, which operates Berkeley Lab for the Department of Energy. When the Request for Qualifications (RFQ) seeking new sites was issued last January, the Richmond Field Station was clearly set as the benchmark for other sites: “RFS by and large meets the parameters of the Site Attributes,” it stated. “Respondents to this RFQ should know that the University may choose to site the second campus at RFS and will be evaluating potential sites relative to their ability to better meet the needs of the University and the DOE.”

The Berkeley Lab’s second campus will unify a number of facilities that are scattered around the East Bay, such as the Joint Bio-Energy Institute in Emeryville, the Joint Genome Institute in Walnut Creek, the National Energy Research Scientific Computing Center in Oakland, and the life sciences division of the Lab, which is currently on Potter Street in West Berkeley. The second campus is anticipated to eventually have 2 million gross square feet of facilities.

When rival sites made community presentations last summer, potential negatives of the Richmond site were regularly highlighted. Photos showed cars bumper-to-bumper on I-80, making the Lab’s announced desire for sub-20-minute commutes between the two campuses unlikely. Berkeley pitches highlighted the many restaurants and stores a walk or a short drive away from their projects, on the assumption that researchers would be lured out of their labs at lunchtime.

In the end, however, those arguments paled beside the cost and time advantages presented by Richmond.

“I’m surprised,” said Michael Goldin, one of the developers of the Aquatic Park West site which was on the shortlist. “I couldn’t see why they went through the trouble of an RFQ if Richmond was a real possibility.”

Goldin said, however, that he thought the year-long process, including the public presentations, could have concrete benefits for Berkeley and for the region.

“There was a lot of goodwill that came out of the process,” he said. “People from the outside needed to know that things are changing.”

Goldin’s view was echoed by Caplan at the city. “The process itself seems to have highlighted Berkeley as a center for bioscience research,” he said. “The benefits of a growing bioscience and energy research base [with the Richmond choice] will accrue to the entire region.”

Mayor Bates also pointed out what he saw as at least two liabilities to having the Lab’s second campus in Berkeley: the property is off the tax roll and, had the campus come here, there would not have been much private land available for ancillary businesses that emerged from the lab.

In all, Bates said it was a “win win” situation.

The work to design, finance, and build a second campus will now begin in earnest. University officials will start a thorough environmental review of the site, which is located right near Interstate 580 on Seaver Street, off of Meade Street. They hope to be moving in in 2016.

Berkeley Lab chooses Richmond for second campus [01.23.12] 
Berkeley Lab second campus decision delayed into 2012 [11.22.11] 
Berkeley Lab holds meeting for Emeryville/Berkeley site [08.09.11]
Live from Berkeley Lab’s Aquatic Park West meeting [08.04.11]
Live from Berkeley Lab’s Golden Gate Fields meeting [08.03.11] 
Berkeley sites for Lab’s second campus in spotlight [08.03.11]
Berkeley bids for Lab’s second campus fly under radar [07.15.11]

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  • John Holland

    I haven’t paid much attention to this issue, but I would love to hear what other Berkeleyites think of this decision.

  • Bruce Love

    I think Bates and company want to put all of Berkeley’s wood behind one basket of eggs, so to speak.[*]

    It’s foolish to fixate on spin-offs from LBNL.   If we do so we rely on economic development flowing from but a few hundred or low couple thousand innovators, most of whom are working on ideas that have little relevance to Berkeley’s potential.   The number of companies they spin off will be very, very tiny compared to the number of companies looking for a home.   The number of successful companies they spin off makes counting on their success akin to playing the lottery.    It is lazy and false of Bates et al. to rely on the Shining Authority of the academic hill this way but their imprimaturs  can sure help secure real estate development speculation financing.

    Economic development policies in Berkeley should not be the conflated with real estate development policies.    Economic development policies should take a structural look at the macro economy and make informed and defensible guesses about where things are going structurally rather than relying on what is seemingly convenient to LBNL’s grant applications each year.

    [*] “all our wood behind one arrowhead” + “all our eggs in one basket”

  • Completely Serious

    Add LBL to the list:
    Clif Bar
    Power Bar
    North Face

    All started in Berkeley and moved away . . . .

    But that’s okay.  We’ve got, uh, let’s see . . .
    Oh yeah.  We have some more multi-use buildings coming.
    And an Apple Store!
    And some empty lots and some empty store fronts.

  • BerkIMBY

    The Second Campus will be good for Richmond, which in turn will be good for other neighborhing communities. Richmond has had such a hard time financially compared to Berkeley. Let’s hope that this decision can help spread the wealth around a bit.
    I live in Berkeley, and I was hoping that this second campus would be built in Berkeley (Ease of commute, good for my community). But the Richmond location makes a lot of sense as well, and I hope it spawns positive change in RIchmond. > “An outstanding show of community support occurred in Richmond,” said Paul Alivisatos, the director of the lab.
    I heard this same statement over and over again from multiple Lab folks involved with the decision. Richmond really wanted the Lab. There was a lot of positive support in Berkeley as well, but Berkeley also had the “Tell the truth about the biogenics/radiation”-conspirary-NIMBY-people at every single meeting (They showed up at meetings that had nothing to do with the Lab at all, to try and convince other committees that the Lab was evil), and the endless debate parking and traffic in West Berkeley.

  • BerkIMBY

    LBL is only moving some groups away from Berkeley, not all, and only some of those are in Berkeley.

  • TN

    I never thought that LBL would locate their second campus anywhere except in Richmond for the simple reason that UC already owned the large plot of under utilized RFS land. It is nearly impossible to beat a bid which includes large amounts of “free” land in a developed area that is basically adequate to LBL’s needs. I couldn’t get interested in all the debate and controversy surrounding the issue.

    What I wondered was why LBL bothered to go through this charade of soliciting bids. Was it simply to negotiate the best terms from the City of Richmond?

    I think that LBL wasted a lot of people’s time, money and emotional energy.

  • Charles_Siegel

    Jane Jacobs pointed out that there are many cities that are constantly losing businesses to other cities but that are economically successful. 

    It is because they incubate new businesses.  When these businesses become large enough, they move to other cities that have more land, but they are replaced by yet more new businesses.

    I am not saying that Berkeley is there yet, but it is one plausible model.

  • TA854

    Scientists eat lunch at their desks or lab tables, not fancy restaurants. The only real hope that Berkeley had was that LBNL was already situated in the hills and the second campus would have been convenient. NIMBYs are a real problem and Berkeley will never achieve true economic growth until they become more reasonable.

  • Haselstein

    It’s better to keep West Berkeley on the tax rolls (Berkeley already has considerable real estate that does not generate tax revenue and therefore does not pay for infrastructure costs). I am hoping that the two campuses provide good shuttle service. And it makes real sense to use land already owned by UC. 

  • Berkeley Woman

    Good writing! Well done.

  • Foo

    > Scientists eat lunch at their desks or lab tables, not fancy restaurants.

    1. This isn’t true. Do you really think the Lab is different from any other office? In my location, most people eat out, and some people eat in the office. I’d say that the vast majority of lunches (and coffee breaks) are eaten at local businesses (cafes, not fancy restaurants). Also, in most situations eating at most lab tables is against the rules for safety, cleanliness).2. Keep in mind that there are many non-scientists at the Lab. LBL is full of computer engineers, support staff, etc. who are needed to keep the big machines running. Scientists are great people, but they can’t do everything.

  • BerkeleyCommonSense

    “Berkeley” and “wasted time, money and emotional energy” go hand in hand.

  • It definitely appears to be a developing trend.

    It wouldn’t be troubling if we had new businesses stepping in to take their place, but if they are I’m certainly not seeing them.

  • Jacksonhole

    NERSC is actually moving back up to the primary lab in Berkeley, not the 2nd campus.