Major milestone for Richmond Bay Campus

The promise of a gleaming waterfront Richmond Bay Campus grew substantially brighter last week, as the UC Board of Regents signed off on an ambitious proposal to expand research collaborations between UC Berkeley, Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory and private industry — and bring sorely needed employment opportunities to surrounding communities.

Future site of the Richmond Bay Campus

Future site of the Richmond Bay Campus. Beyond lie the Richmond Annex, the city of El Cerrito and Wildcat Canyon. (Photo by Doug Lockhart)

The regents’ approval of a Long Range Development Plan and environmental impact report is “a huge milestone,” said UC Berkeley’s Terezia Nemeth, the project’s development manager, and “clears the major hurdle of unpredictability” for the ambitious, 5.4 million-square-foot bayside campus. The setting, on land already owned by the University of California, is envisioned as a site for greatly enhanced, multidisciplinary research opportunities for scientists at Berkeley and Berkeley Lab, while boosting opportunities for jobs, beautification and revitalization in the City of Richmond.

“We have a welcoming partner in the City of Richmond,” Berkeley Chancellor Nicholas Dirks reminded the regents before Thursday’s vote. Both the campus and the Lab, he noted, “have shown our commitment to work in partnership with the community to ensure all we do will benefit not research on campus and in the labs, but also will benefit Richmond itself and the larger East Bay.”

Also addressing the regents, Horst Simon, Berkeley Lab’s deputy director, predicted the shared campus site will be a “beacon of inspiration” in the region and beyond.

The Richmond Field Station site was originally announced as the future home of LBNL’s “second campus” in January 2012. Then, in 2013, federal budget cuts resulted in the loss of some $130 million the Lab expected from the U.S. Department of Energy for the first phase of construction.

But Berkeley Lab officials continue to see a long-term need for expansion of their facilities, and have affirmed their ongoing commitment to partner with UC Berkeley in creating the Richmond Bay Campus. Berkeley Lab’s director, Paul Alivisatos, and Chancellor Dirks have signed a joint letter of commitment intended to create a framework for continued partnership between the campus, the Lab, the City of Richmond and neighborhood groups and residents to address such community priorities as education, workforce training and local hiring and procurement.

And Dirks in January established the RBC Executive Committee to work with the Lab and neighboring communities to develop — as he told the regents last week — “a state-of-the-art, inspirational and sustainable place that facilitates, leverages and supports research to drive knowledge creation and applied innovation.”

Applied innovation is “a key concept,” explained Bob Lalanne, Berkeley’s vice chancellor for real estate, “because it helps us translate the ideas from our laboratories into scalable, buildable products that generate economic growth, jobs and opportunity.”

In order to make that happen, he added, “we need to continue to attract and retain top talent at Berkeley and LBNL.”

“The Richmond site,” said Lalanne, “provides the right community and — with its proximity to the Berkeley campus — the right physical location to grow an important new center for the region and the state.”

Nemeth, with long experience in commercial development at San Francisco’s Mission Bay project, called approval of the 40-year master plan and certification of the environmental impact report “the first step necessary to initiate a project of this scale,” and will help enable the executive committee to identify new delivery methods and sources of funding.

And while there is no specified date for the start of construction at the Richmond Bay Campus, she said, the regents’ action provides a roadmap for long-term development. The campus and the Lab will focus next on creating a sustainable-infrastructure master plan that meets UC President Janet Napolitano’s goal of making all UC campuses carbon-neutral by 2025.

The Richmond Bay Campus, added Nemeth, “will be a demonstration project for such sustainability initiatives.”