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.

Related:
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]