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BFA Board opposes the amendment to UC Berkeley’s 2020 Long Range Development Plan (LRDP), to allow the construction of a $15 million Aquatics Center

At the UC Regents meeting in Sacramento on May 15, 2013, the Regents will be asked to approve an amendment to UC Berkeley’s 2020 Long Range Development Plan (LRDP), to allow the construction of a $15 million Aquatics Center on what is now a parking lot across the street from central campus, next to the Student Health Center, and close to downtown Berkeley.  The Board of the Berkeley Faculty Association opposes this amendment (agenda item GB6). Our chief concern is that, in lean fiscal times, following donor money may drag the University toward financing high-end athletic and other auxiliary projects and astray from our primary mission:  instruction and research.

There are three major problems with the proposal.

Private donors wish to build a facility for the use of Intercollegiate Athletics.  Only 120-150 intercollegiate athletes, on the Swimming, Diving, and Water Polo teams, would regularly use the building. This does nothing for the other 36,000 UC Berkeley students, not to speak of faculty, staff, and community members, who have access only to overcrowded, underfunded Recreational Sports facilities.  (The claim of a passive benefit—reduced IA use allowing more recreational swim time—is speculative, since no funding for expanded hours has been promised.)

Other recent building projects devoted to particular campus populations support the academic interests of students and faculty.  The problem here is that a significant piece of Berkeley’s precious real estate would be devoted exclusively to what has been an “auxiliary enterprise” of the university—Intercollegiate Athletics–and therefore the project does not conform to the principle stated in the 2020 LRDP: to “provide the space, technology and infrastructure we require to excel in education, research, and public service.”

Failure to reimburse university for usufruct:
Although private donors would pay for the construction of the $15 million Aquatics Center, the campus would receive no return on the value of the land on which the exclusive facility would be built. This land, worth between $7 and $10 million dollars an acre in se, is neither a blank slate nor a dark continent awaiting colonization.  It currently provides 230 intensively utilized parking spaces.

Until quite recently (2011), when the parking replacement policy articulated in the LRDP was “suspended,” any building development on surface parking areas had to figure in replacement costs of $37,700 per parking space lost.  The Aquatics Center would eliminate 180-190 spaces, so it would have owed campus an additional $7 million.

Even if one accepts the reasonable premise that parking should not be automatically replaced, that the university should “disincentivize” automobile travel, the parking replacement fee gives a rough estimate of the land’s current value to the campus.  Even if this value is not returned in kind, as parking, the university deserves compensation for that amount, which might be used to fund other forms of transit (van pools, subsidy for AC Transit to run time-efficient employee bus routes, etc.).

Ongoing Operational Costs and IA’s Deficit Spending:

Intercollegiate Athletics is supposed to be responsible for generating revenues equal to its expenditures.  However, despite receiving about $2.4 million annually from student fees, it has run multi-million-dollar deficits for many years, receiving substantial subsidies and (mostly forgiven) loans from central campus.  IA has agreed to reduce its subsidy—from $10.5 million in 2011 to $5 million by 2014–but it has failed to meet such commitments before.  Moreover, IA must service the substantial debt taken on by the University for the IA’s $153 million “Student Athlete High Performance Center” (also reserved for the exclusive use of intercollegiate athletes) and the $321 million renovation of the Memorial Stadium.

If the Aquatics Center is built, IA will also be responsible for its ongoing operational costs, estimated at $200K per year.  While this may be a relatively small fraction of a $68 million budget, it would add to IA’s operating deficit.

Like the rest of the Berkeley community, UC’s aquatics teams have performed admirably in difficult circumstances.  We applaud their efforts, both athletic and academic.  They deserve the support of private donors, and we hope those donors will explore the “environmentally preferred alternative” identified in the EIR:  Strawberry Canyon, where swimming facilities in need of upgrade and repair already exist.  But an Aquatics Center reserved for the exclusive use of a small number of Berkeley students for athletic training should not be built on the proposed site, since its supposed benefits are not sufficiently general to justify amending the principles articulated in the 2020 LRDP and the Memorandum of Understanding with the City of Berkeley.



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