Richmond City illustration of a possible LBNL second campus site

Richmond is pulling out all the stops in its bid to persuade the Lawrence Berkeley National Lab to build its second campus there. A full-blown, city-sponsored advertising campaign includes a billboard on I-80, lawn signs for residents’ front yards and “Richmond (Heart) LBNL” buttons available for all to wear.

Alameda, another bidder for the site, has put $20,000 behind a “Let’s put the (Alameda) Point to work” campaign.

Three Berkeley sites are also on the Lab’s shortlist of six — but if there’s a Berkeley welcoming committee, it’s certainly not making its efforts very visible.

The main reason for that is that the three Berkeley-related bids were submitted by private companies, unlike in Richmond and Alameda where the cities signed off on the bids.

Berkeley did not take an official position, partly because it did not want to muddy discussion about the Lab with debate over the West Berkeley Plan — wanting to avoid the impression that the city was making changes in West Berkeley expressly for the Lab — and partly because support for the Lab was not unanimous on the City Council.

So, if the campaigning and lobbying is happening — and you can be sure it is — it’s just more under the radar in Berkeley than elsewhere.

Earlier this week, for example, council member Laurie Capitelli met with the Berkeley Chamber of Commerce to encourage its members to urge the Lab to choose Berkeley.

“It’s a no-brainer,” he said. “Berkeley has so much more to offer than Richmond… except that Richmond is free.” (The Richmond Field Station — one of the the proposed sites — is owned by UC Berkeley.)

Pro-LBNL sign in Alameda

Capitelli said the benefits to Berkeley of the Lab choosing the city were clear: a shot in the arm for the local economy, with good paying jobs, skills training and opportunities for youth. He also cited the “history and tradition” of the relationship between Berkeley and the Lab since its founding in 1931.

Although the Lab does not pay property taxes, the income to the city from its primary Berkeley hills campus is estimated to be at least $120 million. Its overall economic impact on the nine Bay Area counties is $700 million, according to the Lab.

Capitelli also stressed the Lab’s requirements, outlined in its RFQ, for a “welcoming community”, preferably in walking distance to a diverse group of restaurants, cafés, stores and other amenities.

“There are more places where you can buy a latte in Berkeley than anywhere else in the East Bay,” he said.

The first opportunity most Berkeley residents will have to hear about having a second Lab campus within city boundaries, and to see details of the bids, comes with a series of public meetings organized by the Lab.

The meetings, which include presentations from the bidders for the six locations in play, kicked off at Alameda Point on July 13. Richmond Field Station will be discussed on July 21, Oakland’s Brooklyn Basin on July 27, Golden Gate Fields, which is a joint Berkeley-Albany bid, on August 3, Berkeley’s Aquatic Park West on August 4, and Berkeley-Emeryville’s Emery Station on August 8. (See full details on the Lab’s website.)

The second campus is intended to consolidate Lab programs and employees. The Lab has a total of 4,200 employees, 20% of whom are in leased spaces throughout the East Bay. The new campus, which needs to accommodate up to 2 million square feet of lab, office and research and development space, will also provide room for growth.

Michael Goldin, who is part of Berkeley’s Aquatic Park West bid, said he thinks it’s very important that any one of the Berkeley sites win.

“We need this as a community,” he said. “The Lab will deliver a huge boost to our local economy whichever site it chooses.”

LBNL's primary campus in the Berkeley hills

Goldin also points to the work undertaken by the Lab — such as alternative energy technologies and cancer research — which, he believes, are in keeping with Berkeley as a city.

“It’s a rare time when a project is aligned with where our city is morally,” he said.

The Berkeley Chamber of Commerce as an organization is behind the Berkeley bids. “All the players here are Chamber members, including LBNL,” said co-CEO Polly Armstrong. “The Chamber wants to see the second campus in Berkeley.”

Capitelli suggested to Chamber members that they send personal and professional “from the heart” statements to LBNL — and turn up at the Lab’s public meetings. “We need to go on record that the welcome mat is out,” he said.

Whether the Berkeley meetings will live up to the Richmond one in terms of bells and whistles remains to be seen. According to the Contra Costa Times, the Richmond gathering on July 21 will be “a combination informational meeting and pep rally”. It starts with entertainment provided by the East Bay Center for the Performing Arts and includes free refreshments from locally based Galaxy Desserts.

Three Berkeley sites being considered for Lawrence Berkeley Lab second campus [05.09.11]
Fourth Berkeley site proposed for LBL second campus [03.18.11]
Three Berkeley sites proposed for new LBL campus [03.04.11]
Lawrence Berkeley Lab issues wish list for new campus [01.04.11] 

Tracey Taylor is co-founder of Berkeleyside and co-founder and editorial director of Cityside, the nonprofit parent to Berkeleyside and The Oaklandside. Before launching Berkeleyside, Tracey wrote for...