Oakland showcases waterfront site in bid for Lawrence Berkeley lab expansion

Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory representatives and Oakland city officials are watching a promotion video for the proposed Oakland site of the lab's new campus. From left to right are lab director Paul Alivisatos, lab COO James Krupnick, Councilmember Patricia Kernighan and Mayor Jean Quan.

Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory representatives and Oakland city officials are watching a promotion video for the proposed Oakland site of the lab's new campus. From left to right are lab director Paul Alivisatos, lab COO James Krupnick, Councilmember Patricia Kernighan and Mayor Jean Quan.

More than 200 people flocked to the Jack London Square Aquatic Center on Wednesday evening to show support for Oakland’s bid to host the expansion project of Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, a massive scientific research institute run by UC Berkeley on behalf of Department of Energy.

The laboratory, which now has its main campus in Berkeley’s hills and facilities all around the Bay Area, is seeking a second campus to strengthen its current research projects and host new ones, most of which will relate to biosciences. The 25-acre new campus is expected to generate hundreds of millions of dollars in economic activities each year and attract other businesses such as restaurants and retail shops.  Oakland’s proposed location is the waterfront near the Oakland estuary, about one mile south of Jack London Square, a development area also known as “Oak to 9th.”

James Krupnick, the lab’s Chief Operating Officer, said during Wednesday’s town hall meeting that the new site has to be located within 25 minutes of the original campus, provide easy access to public transit and be surrounded by welcoming communities. Other requirements include ample space that will allow future growth and the presence of a variety of businesses that serve the needs of the lab’s employees, such as restaurants, gas stations and hotels.

Oakland will satisfy all those needs, said Oakland Mayor Jean Quan during her speech introducing lab officials to the proposed site. “One of your employees told us that he lives on Lake Merritt and plans to kayak to work,” Quan said. “It’s the most beautiful site and one of the few sites where you can grow.”

A key competitive advantage for the Oakland site is that the major zoning clearance and an approved Environmental Impact Report for the Oak to 9th development are already in place, which would save the lab six to nine months in development time, said the city’s deputy planning director Eric Angstadt. “It’s a waterfront site that you don’t have to pioneer,” Angstadt said. “It’s part of an overall waterfront renaissance that Oakland is going through right now.”

Other city officials, including Council President Larry Reid (District 7) and Councilmember Patricia Kernighan (District 2), also spoke enthusiastically in favor of bringing the lab’s expansion project to Oakland. “If you are to choose the Oakland’s site, I want to let you know how much the community at all levels really supports this idea,” said Kernighan.

In addition, dozens of representatives from community organizations and local companies, including Internet radio station Pandora and cleaning products company Clorox, took the microphone to express their hospitality as well. “Whatever the other cities have, we have more,” said Carl Chan, a Chinatown Chamber of Commerce board member. “Whatever the other cities have, we have better.”

Paul Alivisatos, the lab’s director, said he was moved by the beautiful site and the support shown by the Oakland community, adding that the lab’s new Carbon Cycle 2.0 initiative, a project aimed at restoring the Earth’s carbon balance, “will connect very deeply with the values of the Oakland community.”

The lab currently operates a research facility in downtown Oakland—the National Energy Research Scientific Computing Center—which serves more than 4,000 scientists from around the country, Alivisatos said.

Five other cities are also bidding for the lab’s new campus, including sites in Richmond, Albany, Berkeley, Emeryville and Alameda. More than 700 people were drawn to the city’s presentation to the lab in Richmond last week.

According to Krupnick, the lab will announce the winner in November and start construction as soon as late 2013.

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