September 2, 2016
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Last Thursday, UC Berkeley leadership announced the suspension of the Berkeley Global Campus (BGC) project in a closed door meeting, citing deep financial constraints faced by the university as the root cause for their decision. The sudden news was deeply disappointing to us at the Haas Institute, as well as our community partners in Richmond. For the past three years, we have been deeply involved in working directly with the community and UC Berkeley to help develop a model for this major development project that had fairness, equity, and community benefits centered in every stage of its planning. The development of the Richmond Bay site provided a platform for a coalition of Richmond residents, city leaders, and other stakeholders to come together and shape the future of Richmond in a rapidly changing landscape. 

As we noted in our report on the project, universities, hospitals, and other “anchors” are embedded within the community and uniquely positioned to have far-reaching impact on the local and regional economy. Richmond faces many of the same challenges of cities across the country: a concentration of low-wage jobs, a heavy environmental health burden, housing costs that outpace income, and high rates of income inequality. The importance of addressing persistent, deep inequality and exclusion along the axes of race and ethnicity—lines which are deeply etched into the landscape of Richmond—has inspired a rethinking of conventional planning processes, especially related to the role of anchor institutions. UC Berkeley is a public-serving, anchor institution, and as such, the burden of providing access and opportunity is on the institution and should be built into its structure in order to ensure equity and access for the public good.
The Berkeley Global Campus, slated to be the largest public investment in Richmond since World War II, therefore represented more than just a development project—it represented a historic opportunity to dramatically expand opportunity for marginalized populations and transform structures that affect the health, well-being, and future of their community. Richmond community leaders were the first to articulate this vision, and vocalized it to university leaders who were initially reluctant to commit to a process that involved community accountability or specific, binding community benefits.
In its earliest iteration, the project was intended to be a high-tech scientific research campus, part of a collaboration between Lawrence Berkeley National Labs (LBNL) and UC Berkeley. When LBNL's anticipated federal funding fell through in 2014, UC Berkeley took the lead and Chancellor Dirks announced the model of turning the site into a "global campus" involving partnerships with international universities.
In response to community advocacy, UC Berkeley and LBNL convened a Community Working Group to develop recommendations for policies and partnerships with respect to education, jobs and training, procurement and housing. This group included grassroots community organizations, local city government officials, union members, philanthropy, and school district officials, among many others, who all developed a comprehensive set of recommendations that we wholeheartedly support. However, following Chancellor Dirks’ resignation announcement, the Berkeley Global Campus project was halted, and no specific commitments related to the recommendations have been enacted.
A cornerstone of the Haas Institute’s work is engaged scholarship that benefits the public good. Our staff have been part of countless workshops and planning sessions with community leaders to identify strategies that can address the greatest needs of Richmond residents. The Community Working Group recommendations had the backing of leadership from UC Berkeley, LBNL, and local city government in Richmond, including from Chancellor Dirks, who committed to many of the suggested policies and continuously affirmed UC Berkeley’s commitment to working with the community.

This process has facilitated valuable relationship-building between UC Berkeley and Richmond stakeholders, as well as shedding light on other emerging issues, such as housing, food policy and non-profit development models, which the Haas Institute analyzed as part of our work in Richmond.

While the cessation of the Berkeley Global Campus project is a deep disappointment, the critical work done by this diverse body of stakeholders has not been done in vain. There is still great potential for other development projects to continue at the Richmond site, and the comprehensive platform that was developed can be applied here and to other development. The work of the Community Working Group has, according to Chancellor Dirks, “provided an invaluable foundation for all future projects on the Richmond Bay Campus.” In conversations we had with staff from the Chancellor’s office this week, representatives who worked on the BGC reiterated that the campus was suspended due to the current financial and budget constraints on campus. 

The Richmond project was emblematic of the type of work that the vision of the Haas Institute embodies —the production of knowledge and research co-created in partnership with and in service to community.

We are honored to have been part of this project’s bold vision that marginalized communities can have a seat at the table and design institutional mechanisms to ensure that development is fair and inclusive. We look forward to continuing our work with communities, scholars, advocates, and all who are united by a shared vision of greater access to opportunity, healthy and thriving communities, and the realization of a fair and inclusive society.
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