A UC Berkeley plan to add new sand or “beach” volleyball courts at the Clark Kerr campus is causing alarm with some neighbors who fear the project will bring noise and congestion and claim it goes against legal use agreements for the land.
The Clark Kerr Campus at 2601 Warring St. — home to student housing, shared UC-community recreational facilities, and university meeting space — currently has two beach volleyball courts. The new plan is to replace these with four new courts, a locker-bathroom-storage facility, updated lighting, and a grass spectator area.
The facilities will be home to UC’s women’s intercollegiate beach volleyball and is slated as a measure to help Cal comply with Title IX laws that require public schools to provide equal athletic opportunities to women and men.
The courts are planned for the southwest corner of Dwight Way and Sports Lane, currently home to a grass softball field. Construction is scheduled to start in early 2019.
But many neighbors of Clark Kerr are calling foul of the plan, saying it violates a set of agreements or covenants on use and development of the 50-acre site, which was transferred to UC from the state in 1982. Clark Kerr was previously home to a state school for the deaf and blind, which moved to a new campus in Fremont.
The covenants, which are in place for 50 years, are part of a settlement to legal challenges to the Clark Kerr land transfer, reached with neighbors and the city of Berkeley. The aim was to guide the utilization of the space as a useful asset to the university with some shared uses with the community, without significantly increasing neighborhood impacts.
Specifically, neighbors say plans for the new volleyball courts break at least two agreements in the covenants; that no facilities for “major spectator” events will be built, and that no new buildings will be added to the site, except for senior and affordable housing.
The agreement does, however, allow for replacing old, decrepit buildings with new. It also allows for expanding tennis and volleyball at the site for shared UC-community recreational use.
Plans for the new volleyball courts call for a grass spectator area with berm seating with a capacity of 400, and for an approximately 3300 sq. ft. locker room/storage building. Objecting neighbors argue that space for 400 spectators is major. They also say increased lighting, noise, and parking needs will adversely impact residential areas.
“Our thorough review of the proposal and the Covenants leads us to the conclusion that this proposed complex violates the Covenants, and if carried out, will affect negatively both the livability and the property values of the surrounding homes,” reads a letter the presidents of three Clark Kerr neighborhood groups sent to their members in late August.
The letter was signed by Dean Metzger, president of the Claremont Elmwood Neighborhood Association, Joan Barnett, president of the Dwight Hillside Neighborhood Association, and Mike Kelly, president of the Panoramic Hill Neighborhood Association.
The neighborhood groups, exploring their legal options, have corresponded with UC lawyers, preferring to keep details confidential for the time, said Phil Bokovoy, a member of the Claremont Elmwood Neighborhood Association. Bokovoy is involved in a different lawsuit against UC for expanding student enrollment.
They’re currently surveying their members about support for legal action against UC, Barnett said. “We’re waiting to see how much backing we’re going to get from the surrounding community. And the university knows that,” she said.
“Ever since they’re been here we’ve been trying to bring them back to the covenants. They break them knowing they break them and saying let the neighbors come after us, knowing that coming after them is going to take money for lawyers, and they have more money than we do.”
In an email, Dan Mogulof, UC Berkeley assistant vice-chancellor for public affairs, defended the volleyball courts as in sync with the covenants.
“We are confident that our plans conform with letter and spirit of the covenants,” Mogulof said. “It should be noted that the covenants were created to settle a lawsuit and that they benefit specific homeowners who live in close proximity to the CKC. They are complicated, legal documents that can’t be described in summary form. For this reason, we are asking the relevant homeowners who have concerns about pending construction plans and the extent to which they comply with the covenants, to send written queries to our Office of Legal Affairs.”
He goes on: “We will thoroughly respond in kind, though the responses can sometimes take time to compile given the complexity of the issues and our desire to be transparent and comprehensive. Suffice it to say that recipients of our responses are free to share them as they see fit.”
The volleyball courts aren’t the first issue neighbors have had with UC Berkeley and the Clark Kerr campus. There’s been a history of claims of breaches to the covenants. UC has made a few small mitigations, Barnett said, for example, ending cheerleader summer camps at the site.
Bokovoy said the latest plan might be a tipping point. “I do believe the majority of residents are opposed to the facility,” he said. “I think this has brought the issue to a head and we will go ahead and figure out how to remedy the existing breaches.”
Bokovoy stressed that he isn’t against the concept. He said that he and other neighbors feel there are better places on campus for the volleyball fields, such as at the Edwards Stadium, which UC has identified for improvements or new uses.
“The scale of the facilities isn’t appropriate for the environment where they want to build. Our view is that would be a much more appropriate place to put these facilities as opposed to putting them in the middle of residential neighborhoods,” Bokovoy said.
At least one neighbor, however, looks forward to the development. Patrick Kennedy, who lives on Parker Street (not to be confused with Patrick Kennedy, the developer) said it could be an asset.
“If a reasonable traffic plan can be developed I support the project,” Kennedy said.
“I have a 6-year-old daughter who loves Cal women’s athletics and it would be great just to be able to walk up the hill to have a terrific sporting experience with her. I understand that there are covenants in place with the neighborhood groups but I can certainly understand Cal wanting to put this scarce resource (available space) to work. Awesome to see investment in women’s athletics after so much has been spent the Memorial Stadium project.”
In addition to the volleyball courts, UC is planning to renovate the softball field at Strawberry Canyon to a professional standard, also to help equalize athletic opportunities for women and men. These plans are components of Chancellor Carol Christ’s overall efforts to reorganize Cal athletics to stabilize spending and balance budgets.