New aquatics center raises parking, planning concerns

UC Berkeley is planning to build a new Aquatics Center at 2222 Bancroft Way.

UC Berkeley is planning to build a new aquatics center at 2222 Bancroft Way. Image: UC Berkeley

UC Berkeley officials held a public hearing Wednesday night on plans to build a new aquatics center at 2222 Bancroft Ave., east of Oxford, and were told the one-story building is a lost opportunity for improving the area and would be too disruptive to parking.

UC hopes to start construction on the $15 million project in August to alleviate the crowding that now takes place at Spieker Pool. Currently, all 120 of Cal’s swimmers, divers and water polo athletes, as well as recreational swimmers, must use that facility, putting a severe strain on its capacity.

The new aquatics structure, which will take the place of a parking lot next to the Tang Center, will have three single-level buildings surrounding a 52-meter-by-25-yard pool and 46-foot high dive tower. The facility will mostly be used for training Cal’s four NCAA Division 1 squads and will not contain permanent seating. However, the university does anticipate holding a maximum of four meets a year there and will have the ability to bring in portable bleachers to seat 500 people. The university will also install a number of 30-foot towers to provide lighting for the rare night competition. The glassed-in dive tower will also be illuminated, producing a “soft glow,” according to officials.

“We have a need to double our water space,” Bob Milano Jr., Cal’s associate athletic director, told those who attended the hearing on the Subsequent Environmental Impact Report. “Our competitors all have two pools or more. We are asking for enough to allow our athletes to be successful in the classroom and in the pool.”

Screen shot 2013-04-04 at 9.05.08 AM

The new 52-meter swimming pool and 46-foot-high dive tower planned for the new UC aquatics center on Bancroft Way.

The new facility will free up space in Spieker Pool, which means there will be more room for community and youth groups to use the space, according to officials.

The public comment period on the EIR is open until April 24 at 5 p.m., according to Jennifer McDougall, a principle planner at Cal. The UC Board of Regents will consider the EIR at its May meeting. Construction is estimated to take 10 months, she said.

The main concern expressed by those at the meeting centered on the loss of parking in the area. The new aquatics center will be built on a lot that currently accommodates about 230 cars, and 171 of those spaces will be lost. Another 234 spaces have also recently disappeared nearby because the University Hall parking structure on Oxford is being torn down to make room for the new Berkeley Art Museum.

Les Ferriss, who teaches at the Bancroft Library, said he drives from Sonoma County to campus three times a week. He pays $800 a year for a campus parking permit but said it can be hard to find a space. Now things will be worse.

“Sometimes I spend 45 minutes driving around trying to find a spot,” said Ferriss.

Jane Goodwin works for Cal Performances at Zellerbach Auditorium. Sometimes she works late at night and needs to park close.

“The impact is going to be really serious coming up,” said Goodwin. “We can’t all take public transportation.”

The university’s long-range plan does call for adding additional parking but is currently in a phase where more parking is being taken away than added, said McDougall. The university currently has 5,700 parking spaces for its employees, according to Seamus Wilmot, director of parking and transportation.

To help the short-term squeeze, Cal has made arrangements with a number of the privately operated garages in Berkeley, said Wilmot. Cal has arranged to use 50 spaces in the Chase Building on Shattuck, he said. The Allston Way garage is offering discounted parking to UC faculty and staff on its sixth floor. The university has added stacked parking to the Ellsworth lot.

There are also some long-range plans in the works, said Wilmot. UC Berkeley is talking to the city of Berkeley about plans to redo the Center Street garage and reserve some parking for UC faculty and staff. Cal is also looking at building some small parking structures on the west side of campus, he said.

UC also has plans to redo Maxwell Family Field, the playing field right next to Cal Memorial Stadium, said McDougall. The idea is to build a two-level, 400-500 space, above-ground parking facility with a field on top, she said.

“Lost Opportunity for Bancroft Way”

The plans for the new aquatics center also drew criticism from Berkeley officials who do not believe it complies with the city’s Southside Plan. The University has long told city officials they needed more office space and the city zoned that stretch of Bancroft Avenue to accommodate those needs, according to Elizabeth Greene, the Berkeley planner who testified at the hearing. Height levels were set at 75 feet to make room for mixed retail and office space. Berkeley wants to make that stretch “a more viable and exciting place,” said Green.

This design “moves in an opposite direction than we were hoping to go,” said Greene. “The city sees this as a lost opportunity for Bancroft Way.”

John Caner from the Downtown Business Association and Roland Peterson from Telegraph Business Improvement District also called for Cal to create a structure that increased the vibrancy on Bancroft Way. They noted in a letter that Bancroft Way was “a key pedestrian link” between downtown and Telegraph Avenue and that it would be good to have retail or interactive pedestrian opportunities there.

University officials could not respond directly to comments at Wednesday’s hearing under CEQA law. They will provide written responses in the final EIR. But McDougall did say that, while the EIR noted it would be more environmentally sensitive to build the new Aquatics Center at Strawberry Canyon, where there is already a pool, that location would not serve the athletes well. The allure of the Bancroft Way space is its proximity to Spieker Pool across the street.

“It will be much better for the program to have the easy back and forth with Spieker,” she said.

The university does not think there will be large traffic impacts with the new aquatics center because it will mostly be used by student-athletes who will walk there, according to the Subsequent EIR.

Read UC’s Subsequent EIR Cal brochure on need for new pool.

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  • foo

    From the article: “The main concern expressed by those at the meeting centered on the loss of parking in the area.”

  • guest

    Campus is where ‘student use only’ buildings are. Look it up.

    Downtown is “where all the people are”

  • guest

    Well, that’s what I was paying to go to work on BART, not to mention $2 each way to BART on AC Transit.

  • guest

    “The sort of planning I am talking about is done based on an idea … of what
    might be environmentally sustainable 100 years or 200 years from now …”

    Nobody has that kind of clear idea of what will be environmentally sustainable 100 years or 200 years from now. We should regard that sort of planning as utopian or fanciful or just some mostly groundless aesthetic. It claims to provide solutions that it simply can not convincingly claim to provide, and it is impossible to test its claims other than by joining its faith. For example, while it is easy to argue that we must curtail carbon emissions, the need for parking spaces in Berkeley 100 years out is far less certain. For example, 150 years from now people may be very glad we built infrastructure out into today’s suburban sprawl.

  • Devin

    I had no idea all those people asking for the time were really scoping me out. I’ll be much more scared from now on guest, thanks for the scare tactics…I mean help. I think the local news is looking for a new anchor, btw.

  • Charles_Siegel

    I guess you think the churches and businesses on the south side of Bancroft Way are also on campus.

  • Charles_Siegel

    I sent this comment to UC and to interested people in the city, and I think my proposal might actually be politically feasible. Thanks to Berkeleyside for getting me thinking about this.

    UC has proposed building the Cal Aquatics Center at 2222 Bancroft Way, and
    the city has objected that there should be denser, more interesting uses on that
    site to help revitalize downtown.

    UC can address the city’s concern by agreeing to acquire the blank-faced
    one-story building immediately to the west of the site and to redevelop it with
    mixed uses, with shopping on the first floor and several floors of office space
    or housing above.

    The city might be able to expand this site further by narrowing the stretch
    of Fulton St. to its west. This block has an excessively wide northbound lane
    that is virtually never used. It should be possible for this block to have two
    southbound lanes and two parking lanes, like the blocks of Fulton St. to its
    south, freeing about 20 feet of street width to add to the project site, and
    also adding more on-street parking.

    Other pedestrian improvements of the Bancroft/Fulton intersection are also
    possible, and would be reasonable mitigations for this project. This small
    stretch of street is a typical example of 1950s traffic engineering, which made
    no effort to create pedestrian-friendly streets.

    Try standing at this intersection for a few minutes, and you will see what an
    unattractive place it is for pedestrians. It is easy to imagine how much more
    attractive it would be with a mixed-use building on the east side of Fulton St.
    and with pedestrian improvements to the street. Currently, Bancroft/Fulton is
    one of the most pedestrian-hostile intersections in Berkeley. This would make it
    more like a normal intersection, flanked by shopping.

    These improvements would bring more people into the area, helping the
    existing business on the west side of Fulton St. and helping to revitalize

    These improvements would also help make Bancroft more pedestrian-friendly for
    the many university-affiliated people who walk up and down it every day, and for
    people who come to use the aquatic center.

    I urge UC and the city to work together on this sort of creative solution,
    which would give them both the sort of improvement that they want.

    I urge UC to adopt this solution to mitigate the impact of the Cal Aquatics
    Center. This project will have a negative impact on downtown business by
    deadening the area, as the city has said. It will also attract more pedestrians
    to this dangerous street, and so will have a negative impact on pedestrian
    safety. The University can mitigate these impact by developing mixed use
    buildings to the west of the Aquatics Center and by modifying the street design
    to make Fulton Street and Bancroft Way more pedestrian friendly.

  • Charles_Siegel

    We know that walking will always be a form of transportation with a very low environmental impact, and we know that walkable neighborhoods are more attractive and more livable than neighborhoods where you cannot walk.

  • guest

    When some says “look it up” and then places a link (the blue text), you can click the blue text (press down on the mouse when the arrow is over it) and something you should read will come up on the computer screen. I hope this helps.

  • guest

    This is a terrible idea. The University benefits greatly from its separation from the city…physically, philosophically and financially. It needs a defensible perimeter in all of those three categories, not more tacky retail leeches sucking the student’s blood.

  • Charles_Siegel

    Would you prefer to close the businesses on Center St that serve students? Are they all “tacky retail leeches”?

    Fortunately, the University understands this issue much better than you do. A stated goal of its rebuilding of Eshleman is to create a better connection between the university and the adjacent shopping in the city.

  • destroy_all_monsters

    Except that those people will now be doing it in the neighborhoods and not the lots. I don’t see that as a win.

  • destroy_all_monsters

    Berkeley doesn’t have a “parking fetish”. Berkeley is the most auto unfriendly town in the entire state if not country.

  • destroy_all_monsters

    Wow, clearly you’ve never been mugged or ever even seen a mugging. Lucky you.

  • destroy_all_monsters

    I’m not a BART defender but it is far cheaper than parking/driving costs to San Francisco. The maintenance and upkeep isn’t that low either and they have their own PD.

    That’s not to say BART isn’t top heavy and that I don’t think that it’s untenable for public sector employees to get bonuses (particularly when getting those bonuses means less front-line employees and therefore less service to the public).

  • Charles_Siegel

    In my opinion, what we need is proper pricing of parking.

    Basic economics tells us that, if you give away a scarce, valuable resource – or if you sell it for less than market price – you will create a shortage.

    If gas stations tried to sell gasoline at $2 per hour, there would be a shortage and people would have to drive around for 45 minutes looking for an open gas station.

    UC is doing pretty much the same thing, selling parking permits for less than the market price and creating a shortage – which is why the employee quoted in the article has to spend 45 minutes driving around looking for a parking space.

  • guest

    You fail to grasp an essential fact: University property is not public property. Note the bronze plaques at all University entries stating that access may be restricted per the discretion of the Regents.

    What the University understands, and you don’t, is that they are tired of the of the mess on Telegraph and are intent on providing their students and staff an area in Lower Sproul plaza for social activities which is entirely under their control. It may be inviting to the general public, but when the gutter punks and beggars try to set up shop, the UCPD will protect the student’s right to eat a burger without the stench of the unwashed wafting over them,

    As far as Center St. is concerned, there are no bronze plaques (aside from the ones which will be placed at the museum entrances) so commerce and nuts (lychee and otherwise) are free to bloom.

  • G

    Maxwell field parking is just a plan it is almost done.