Improving Telegraph Ave. on new UC official’s ‘to-do’ list

Robert Lalanne, UC's new vice-chancellor for real estate. Photo: UC Berkeley

Robert Lalanne, UC Berkeley’s new vice-chancellor for real estate. Photo: UC Berkeley

You know UC Berkeley’s newly appointed vice chancellor for real estate has an open-minded attitude when he says tackling the issues at People’s Park might be a “fun challenge” and looks forward to “getting some things done” to help revitalize Telegraph Avenue.

Robert J. Lalanne, a UC Berkeley alumnus and trustee of the university’s foundation, brings 25 years of real estate and development experience to the new position, which was formally announced Tuesday.

As founder of The Lalanne Group, he has spearheaded commercial, residential and mixed-use projects in San Francisco and other Bay Area counties. He will oversee all of Cal’s construction projects, seek “innovative financing” for new buildings, be the point man for facilities and manage 500 employees.

All for nothing a year.

Lalanne will donate his salary back to the university, according to a university press release.

“Bob has been very successful and has been a significant donor to the campus,” said Dan Mogulof, a UC Berkeley spokesman. “He and his wife endowed a chair at the College of Environmental Design, among other things. The Lalanne Group, which he founded, is not doing any new development projects and he was on the path to semi-retirement. So, basically, he’s someone who was looking for new opportunities and ways to give back without having to be concerned about compensation.”

No salary has been set yet, but Lalanne’s predecessor, Ed Denton, who is retiring after 15 years, earns around $220,500 a year. Lalanne will start his new job in January.

Significant challenges ahead

Lalanne and the university are facing significant challenges. While the campus retrofitted 75% of its buildings with seismic issues during Denton’s tenure, and constructed 6.3 million square feet of new and renovated space — including Memorial Stadium and the Simpson Student-Athlete High Performance Center — funding for capital projects remains difficult. The state does not provide funds for new buildings so Cal has to raise money through private donations and innovative financing, said Mogulof.  (State support for university operation has dropped from about $600 million to $300 million in the last eight years, according to John Wilton, the vice-chancellor for administration and finance.)

Lalanne pointed to one upcoming capital project that he would like to duplicate elsewhere on campus. Construction will begin in January to turn Maxwell Family Field, the playing field near the stadium, into a 450-space parking garage with a field on top. The university brought in a third party to finance, construct and run the new garage. Cal didn’t have to expend any money on the project, and it will earn income when the operators pay rent and from a portion of the profits.

“The thought was we should be saving our campus capital for the public, academic mission of the school – the students, faculty, labs, classrooms and the like,” said Lalanne, who had a role in the concept as a member of the real estate advisory board of the UC Berkeley Foundation. “Why not third-party develop a parking structure where we use other people’s capital and expertise?”

One of his priorities will be to better integrate the various groups related to real estate and facilities, said Lalanne. For the first time, all the groups will report to the same person — him — and he will report to Wilton. There are numerous large projects on the horizon, including the development of the Richmond campus, which will eventually be home to a new branch of the Berkeley Lab.

Strained town-gown relations

There has long been tension between the university and Berkeley over the campus’ growth and its expansion into the city. The university is tax exempt and, when it acquires land or a building, that property can come off the tax roll. UC Berkeley owns two large office building in the downtown and many other parcels around town.

Cal does not always develop its property in accordance with Berkeley’s master plan, another sore point. For example, Berkeley increased the density permitted along Bancroft Avenue at the university’s request, according to city officials. But then Cal decided to build a one-story aquatic center on a parking lot there. During a public hearing, Berkeley planners told university officials the city did not think that was a good use of the site.

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

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

Wilton said the university is aware of the tension and has actively been working to resolve divisive issues. About six months ago, he resurrected a monthly breakfast meeting with Mayor Tom Bates to vet ideas and discuss potential problems. Now Lalanne will join them.

“We discuss all the plans the campus has, and all the wishes Berkeley has, because we are both joined in wanting to get the best for both the residents of Berkeley and the student population,” said Wilton. “We are having active discussion on how we can collaborate.”

One of those areas is Telegraph Avenue, which has seen its tax revenue decline over the years and is no longer the de facto “go-to” strip for students, said Wilton. Lalanne has extensive experience working with community groups and developing commercial areas, and those skills should be an asset, said Wilton.

“We can change aspirational goals into a reality, which would be a nice development,” he said.

Lalanne says he has already started thinking about ways to improve Telegraph Avenue. He has looked at Berkeley’s Downtown Plan, examined some of the Telegraph proposals designed by students, and has talked to real estate professors at the Haas business school as well as Telegraph Avenue merchants.

“I think there are very exciting possibilities and a willingness, with some of the property owners and the campus showing some leadership, to really, with Berkeley, together get some things done,” said Lalanne.

While Wilton said there are no plans to develop People’s Park at this time, Lalanne seemed to regard it as an interesting challenge.

“When I think of People’s Park I think of Bryant Park in Manhattan, in midtown, and great public spaces throughout the country like People’s Park, that are historic parks that have been improved,” said Lalanne. “I think it’s yet another fun challenge out there.”

The Lalanne Group, based in San Francisco, was involved with the planning and construction of several developments, including the Portside condominiums along the Embarcadero in San Francisco, the Potrero Center, Falletti Plaza and more than 1,300 multi-family units around the Bay Area. Lalanne has also served as project manager for Dinwiddie Construction Company, managing a number of major projects including the Crocker Tower and Galleria and Levi Plaza in San Francisco.

“It is a real honor and privilege to be asked to serve in this role for an institution I love and deeply respect,” Lalanne said in a press release. “My over-arching goal is to generate new resources and support for the public mission and academic programs of one the world’s greatest universities. Berkeley gave me the knowledge necessary for success in my real estate career and to now redeploy that learning and experience in the university’s service is extremely gratifying.”

The article has been updated to correct an inaccuracy. It originally said that state support for capital projects had gone from $600 million to $300 million. That money actually goes for operations, not construction. Also, under Denton’s term, the university retrofitted 75% of the buildings with seismic issues, not 75% of all of the campus buildings. 

New aquatics center raises parking, planning concerns (04.03.13)
New Sproul, design ideas provide optimism for Telegraph (11.19.12)
Can Berkeley’s Telegraph Avenue get its mojo back (04.18.12)
Imagining a future for Telegraph Avenue without blinders (04.11.12)
Telegraph fire site owner plans for temporary resurrection (02.06.12)
Urban think tank: Student visions for blighted Telegraph lot (10.03.11)
City hands ultimatum to Sarachan on vacant Telegraph lot (09.07.11)
What about that vacant lot on Haste and Telegraph? (08.11.11)
Berkeley students want better stores, fewer street people (05.31.11)

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  • Charles_Siegel

    As one more idea for Mr. Lalanne to consider, I suggest my proposal for revitalizing the Telegraph shopping district by widening the sidewalk on Bancroft across from Eshleman Hall and adding trees and sidewalk seating to attract customers – as the city already has done successfully on Center St. just west of campus. See my opinion piece at

    Since I wrote that, Mayor Bates proposed and the council approved a resolution directing the city manager to reserve staff time in 2014 to study making Bancroft and Durant two-way.

    Making these streets two-way would make it possible to:

    –widen the sidewalk on Bancroft east of Dana, as I suggest in my opinion piece.
    –add bike lanes on Bancroft west of Dana.
    –add diagonal parking on Durant, adding additional parking spaces.

  • bgal4

    good luck with the park…

    Daily Cal/ Men armed with unusual weapons fight in People’s Park

    Two men, one armed with a large machete and another armed with a fishing pole handle, fought each other Saturday afternoon in People’s Park. A third man picked up a large metal pole, but all three were stopped when a UCPD officer told the men to drop their weapons, according to a UCPD crime alert released Monday. The UCPD officer drove by the park at 12:17 p.m. and saw the machete and the fishing pole handle.

  • Doc

    I wish him luck in revitalizing south campus. Doing something beneficial with People’s Park is high on any list. It is so much wasted potential now. More University police presence is a must, this is an area that is both campus and city, cooperation is key. Most important is making south campus fun, but not violent. Both the City and Universityhave much to gain.

  • Cal Grad

    Would love to see more high density housing brought to Telly. Beyond just a shopping district, it would be great to have a neighborhood there that doesn’t disappear closing time. A more urban style college setting, similar to stretches of the Washington Sq. Park area near NYU.

  • Bill N

    That’s sure right! It’s the source of a lot of problems and a sink hole for police response.

  • Pave Over People’s Park

    Flatten People’s Park and turn it into high density housing. Would be a win-win for the university and the community.

  • Adrian Reynolds

    Revitalize People’s Park? Hahaha…will never happen. Honestly they should kick all the homeless people/campers out and build something useful for the entire community. Pipe dream.

  • Woolsey

    This guy sounds great – appropriate background, and if he cleans up People’s Park we should nominate him for the Nobel Peace Prize. Walking around the South Campus area at night is a scary proposition – it shouldn’t be.

  • batardo

    “Peoples Park” would better serve the PEOPLE as a parking garage. Put some green space on the roof if you want, but police it so the rest of us can use it.

  • Chris J

    A lot of anti-homeless comments here. Sad. I’ve got nothing against the homeless, I don’t care if they take my recycle bottles and cans, but they are a problem in our society that needs to be addressed. So let them have people’s park, hopefully not kill each other. A complicated problem which the paving over of the park would do little to help them.

  • Doc

    The park is part of campus. It should be run for the benefit of the University community. It is not well utilized as a doctor-free mental hospital.

  • berkopinionator

    The Regents should all sleep in the park for a week to get a better flavor of how UC property is currently being used.

  • guest

    The problem with what you’ve said is that “letting them have people’s park” is not in any way addressing the problem of homelessness. In fact, it is the worst of all solutions, because not only does it ignore the problem, it also means everyone suffers the consequences of our collectively sticking our heads in the sand. It is not compassionate to set people with obvious addiction and/or mental illness adrift in people’s park, and it is downright irresponsible to allow a condition to continue that supports a population inclined to attack one another with machetes. I have nothing against the homeless, either. In fact, my heart breaks on a daily basis living in a place where so many people are suffering so deeply. But it’s not fair to the suffering homeless people nor to the rest of us to continue acting as if doing nothing is somehow the most politically progressive, empathetic thing course. I have not idea what has to happen in order for things to change, but I sincerely hope Mr. Lalanne is serious about taking on People’s Park. It is way, way overdue.

  • Guest

    Exactly. Turning over our parks and public spaces to bums is why we see a constant flood of them streaming here from across the country. We’re not “helping” the homeless in any way other than helping other communities get rid of them and send them here instead.

  • Paul Bristol

    I’ll see that when I believe it. They’ve been wanting to improve Telly for forty years at least. To which I say: Spare change man?