RICHMOND -- Federal funding uncertainty and the failure to land a lucrative research project have not dampened expectations that Richmond will be the site of Lawrence Berkeley Laboratory's planned expansion to a new campus.
Cuts from sequestration have halted about $130 million in funding for a biosciences complex planned as part of the new Richmond campus. Then, in late July, it was determined that the lab did not meet the requirements to secure a $1.5 billion contract from the U.S. Department of Energy to build a sophisticated X-ray microscope, freeing up space in the Berkeley hills lab that officials had hoped to use for the cutting-edge research. A recent story in the San Francisco Chronicle reported that the Richmond expansion plan could be on hold now that additional lab space is available in Berkeley.
However, lab officials said this week that the setbacks will not jeopardize the new campus in Richmond, which was selected as the preferred site after a competitive process last year.
The X-ray technology, called the Next Generation Light Source, "is independent of the Richmond Bay Campus," lab spokesman Dan Krotz wrote in an email. "Our commitment to Richmond Bay Campus hasn't changed. We are partnering with UC Berkeley to secure space for our long-term growth."
The lab is managed by the University of California, but it receives much of its funding from the Department of Energy.
The University of California Richmond Field Station was selected in January 2012 and immediately was hailed as the largest potential new development project in the East Bay in decades, capable of turning the region into a hub of innovation and sending economic ripple effects through the city and beyond. The 100-acre site is expected to house up to 5.4 million square feet of modern research and development facilities and more than 1,000 scientists, researchers and other staff.
The partnership with UC Berkeley is key and has been largely overlooked, City Manager Bill Lindsay said. Far from solely a lab project, the university's need for additional research space ensures diversified demand for the new site to weather funding interruptions at the federal level.
"The one thing that seems to have changed a bit since the beginning of the process is that there is more participation by UC Berkeley," Lindsay said. "They're not just the contract land provider, but they are developing more facilities because they see the site as one for growth as well."
Lindsay said he has been in regular contact with both lab and university officials in light of the recent setbacks.
"The fact is that we believe nothing that has happened puts the Richmond campus in any jeopardy," he said.
Still, in response to the Chronicle report, Lindsay issued a memo to the City Council seeking to allay concerns.
"Both LBNL and UC Berkeley officials have downplayed the importance of the Department of Energy's decision to not award the microscope project to LBNL," Lindsay wrote. "They are still working on Richmond Bay Campus project entitlements despite a very difficult federal funding environment, and have indicated that this new campus remains an important part of their long-term plans."
UC Berkeley spokesman Dan Mogulof said Friday that the university hired a development manager in recent days to devise a financing strategy for the Richmond site.
"The university has significant needs for additional research space that this project will address," he said.
Mogulof said UC Berkeley hopes to build a larger "ecosystem" of research, innovation and investment around its Berkeley and Richmond sites in the East Bay, not unlike those surrounding Harvard and Stanford.
"We want to create more partnerships with entrepreneurs and private sector enterprises to speed the translation of our research breakthroughs to beneficial goods and services for the public," Mogulof said.
A draft environmental impact report is scheduled to be released for public comment next month. The UC Board of Regents is expected to consider the site's Long Range Development Plan and the EIR in May. If approved, construction could begin as early as 2015.
Contact Robert Rogers at 510-262-2726. Follow him at Twitter.com/SFBayNewsrogers.