Berkeley schools, Cal closed Friday due to air quality; Saturday farmers market canceled

Berkeley City College closed its campus Thursday and later extended the closure to cover Friday. Photo: Melati Citrawireja

Update, 9:06 p.m. The Ecology Center tweeted that it has canceled its Saturday farmers market (the last Saturday market before Thanksgiving), its Nov. 16 Berkeley farm stand (at the new downtown Berkeley BART Plaza) as well as its residential recycling service on Friday. The decision was made due to “worsening air quality.” (The last time the Saturday farmers market was canceled was on April 15, 2017 due to the fear of violence from a ‘Patriots Day’ rally.) The Tuesday Nov. 20 farmers market had not been canceled at the time of writing.

Update, 6:40 p.m. Late Thursday afternoon, after the air quality index surpassed 200, UC Berkeley canceled all remaining classes for the day, as well as all classes on Friday. Berkeley City College will also be closed Friday.

Update, 2:27 p.m.  All schools and departments in Berkeley Unified will be closed Friday, Nov. 16. In an alert sent out around 2:20 p.m. Thursday BUSD wrote: “The Alameda County Council of Superintendents made the joint decision today to close all schools in Alameda County. Making the decision to close schools was not easy. I hope the extra time off will allow everyone to recover from the difficult week we have experienced.”

Original story: Berkeley City College closed its campus Thursday and sent all employees and students home due to the poor air quality in Berkeley. In an email sent out around 12:30 p.m., the downtown Berkeley-based college said the all day and evening classes were cancelled today, but that services would resume on Friday.


Berkeley Unified schools are keeping students inside for recess, lunch, PE and after-school programs today, and will decide by the end of the day whether to close all schools tomorrow. In an alert to the BUSD community, the district said it was limiting student activities “to reduce outdoor exposure and limit physical exertion,” and heating and cooling systems have been adjusted so they only recycle inside air. The district will inform the school community by end of the working day Thursday whether schools will be closed tomorrow.

Meanwhile, the UC Berkeley campus remains open Thursday. In a message posted Wednesday evening, Chancellor Carol Christ said that cancellation of classes “is not, at this point in time, warranted or necessary due to the current AQI levels in Berkeley.” The university considers cancelling classes when the air quality index (AQI) reaches 200, she said. However, she added that medical staff were advising that “those who have underlying medical conditions that could make them more sensitive to the current air quality should consider staying home, particularly if they commute by foot and bike.”

The AQI for Oakland on Thursday at 1 p.m. was 198, according to the Environmental Protection Agency website, AirNow.gov. The site has been experiencing problems due to high traffic and is crashing fairly often. Air quality data by zipcode, such as 94704 for downtown Berkeley, is only intermittently searchable and the agency has streamlined some of its California data to try alleviate the problem.

An AQI in the 151-200 range is deemed “unhealthy.” It tips into “very unhealthy” between 201 and 300″ and 301-500 is termed “hazardous.” Yuba City, which is close to the Camp Fire is showing an AQI of 368, for example. Details are available on the Bay Area Air Quality Management District website.

BAAQMD forecasts that the AQI for Friday will be 182 which is lower than today but still deemed “unhealthy,” and that Saturday will see a drop to “unhealthy for sensitive groups” which is the 101-150 AQI range.

A winter Spare the Air Alert for the Bay Area has been extended through Nov. 20.

At the time of writing, Saturday’s Big Game between Cal and Stanford is still slated to take place. Cal Athletics said on its website that, “as of 9:30 a.m. Thursday, we have not seen AQI numbers that require postponement of Saturday’s Big Game. We will continue to monitor and will provide updates through the scheduled kickoff.” The Pac-12’s standards for air quality suggest that postponement or cancellation will only occur with an AQI over 200.