Michael Goldin, one of the owners the Aquatic Park West site, stands in front of the view the lab would have if it located there. Photo: Frances Dinkelspiel

As the Berkeley Lab rolls into town this week to hold three public meetings about a second campus, there has been a lot of speculation about which community will be the best cheerleader. The bar has already been set high: Richmond had drummers and dancers perform at its meeting, Oakland put forward its mayor, and Alameda had a packed house.

But a curious thing happened in each community meeting. Instead of the cities wooing the Lab, the Lab wooed the cities.

Lab officials have started each gathering with a presentation that shows how Berkeley Lab is in the forefront of solving the world’s most pressing problems. With its work in developing new energy sources, medicines to fight malaria and other intractable diseases, and a search for solutions on how to capture carbon from smokestacks and other comparable projects, the Lab’s cutting-edge science has made the world a cleaner and better place, officials suggested.

Scientists from the Lab have discovered 16 new elements for the periodic table, helped pioneer refrigerators that are 74% more energy-efficient than earlier models, and developed technology that is used to make fluorescent lightbulbs, among other projects, Lab Director Paul Alivisatos told the crowd gathered in Richmond on July 21. A major focus of the Lab now is its Carbon Cycle 2.0 Initiative, which seeks ways to capture and reuse the carbon released in the air with the use of fossil fuels.

Alivisatos also wowed the crowd with statistics, like the fact there are 12 Nobel Prize winners and 13 National Science Medal winners at the Lab; more than 800 university students work there each year, and the Lab pumps $690 million annually into the Bay Area economy. Berkeley Lab “has a global reach in its activity and ambitions,” he said.

The focus on the Lab’s accomplishments is a great marketing tool – but it may also reflect recognition that building a second campus will have tradeoffs for whichever community hosts it. Since the Lab is a government institution, it won’t pay property taxes or have to comply with local zoning ordinances.

“Contrary to rumors floating around the community, there will be no new jobs at the second campus, which will consolidate work at three existing LBNL sites,” Zelda Bronstein, a former Berkeley Planning Commissioner and frequent critic of development wrote in an opinion piece in the Daily Planet. “Nor will the second campus, a government agency (the lab is managed by the University of California for the U.S. Department of Energy), itself yield any tax revenue. What a second LBNL campus will yield is a great deal of traffic [and] inflated property values.”

Proponents of the Lab point out that it will more than make up for the loss of property tax revenue by attracting spin-off businesses which will pay taxes. About 30 companies to date have been created using Lab technology, according to the lab website. The second campus will create a “critical mass” that will ensure the East Bay becomes a major scientific hub, supporters argue.

“LBNL has been/is/should always be a major player in Berkeley,” John DeClercq, the co-CEO of the Berkeley Chamber of Commerce wrote in a comment on Peak Democracy, a website that poses civic questions and asks for responses from the public. “Innovation, jobs, energy research — these are vital to our world, our country, our city. Berkeley should be proud to be able to be such a major contributor to world health…. We NEED this work to be done! And we NEED the proposed 2nd campus to be located in Berkeley, to better the world and to better the lives of Berkeleyans who will be employed at the 2nd campus.”

The official and public responses to the Lab have been positive so far. When Lab officials held a public meeting in Richmond on July 21, more than 400 people turned out, including the mayor, chief of police, fire chief, and Chamber of Commerce president, according to Alameda Patch. They cheered and held up welcome banners. In Alameda, more than 500 residents came to the information meeting on July 13th. Lawn signs saying “We Love LBL,” pepper front lawns around the city, according to the San Francisco Chronicle.

Since Berkeley has three potential sites – one near Aquatic Park, (the only one of the three that sits entirely in Berkeley) one near the Emeryville border, and one at Golden Gate Fields — and therefore three meetings — turnout at individual meetings may not be as large as it was in the other cities.  In addition, the proposed sites in Alameda and Oakland are part of those cities’ redevelopment districts, meaning the city governments have gotten directly involved in luring the Lab.

Berkeley officials want the Lab to locate its second campus in Berkeley, but are not advocating any particular site since there are three possibilities, said Michael Caplan, the economic development program manager for Berkeley. The City Council did not take a formal position supporting a second campus, but individual city council members have sent letters of support, and many of them plan to show up to each of the three meetings, said Caplan.

So the reaction in Berkeley may look different than the reaction in Richmond, Alameda, and Oakland, but that does not mean Berkeley is any less enthusiastic than those cities, said Julie Sinai, chief of staff for Mayor Tom Bates.

Mayor Tom Bates is vacationing in Ireland but has taped a message touting Berkeley’s benefits that each of the three sites can use, said Sinai. “The mayor would like to see the Lab expand its second campus to one of those three sites,” said Sinai.

The Lab will be hosting three meetings in the next few days to explain the project and see what the developer of each site is proposing (note the new locations for the Albany and Emeryville meetings):

  • There will be a meeting tonight, Wednesday August 3rd, at 7:30 pm at the Albany High School gymnasium to discuss the Golden Gate Fields site. This 100-acre site straddles Albany and Berkeley, although the bulk of the land is in Albany. The owner of the racetrack, which pays $1.7 million annually to Albany, is the Stronach Group of Canada. That organization wants to develop the site for the Lab, tear down the race track, and is interested in constructing a hotel or shopping district.
  • Tomorrow, on Thursday August 4th, there will be a meeting to discuss the Aquatic Park West site at 7:00 pm at the Frances Albrier Community Center in Berkeley. The Aquatic Park West site is co-owned by Michael and Steven Goldin and the Jones Family. The Goldins would act as partners to Forest City, the developers of the 12.5 acre site off Bolivar Drive.
  • On Monday, August 8th, there will be a meeting to discuss the Emeryville/Emery Station/Berkeley site at 7 pm at the Hilton Garden Inn in Emeryville. The Wareham Development Group already owns a cluster of buildings in this area, and some of the Lab’s existing programs, like the Berkeley West Biocenter on Potter Street, already occupy the buildings.

Frances Dinkelspiel, Berkeleyside and CItyside co-founder, is a journalist and author. Her first book, Towers of Gold: How One Jewish Immigrant Named Isaias Hellman Created California, published in November...