NASA Ames and the University of California at Berkeley are spearheading plans for a sprawling new education and research park at Moffett Field. If built, the plans would add a new satellite university campus at the former military base intended to bring together scientific talent across academia, government and the private industry.
The new plans call for up to 1.3 million square feet of mixed-use space, most of which would be devoted to research-and-development labs that could also serve as an industry incubator. This new research space would be reserved for public or private organizations that help further NASA's scientific mission, much like the Ames buildings that are already leased to outside groups.
About one-quarter of the new building space would go toward educational purposes, such as classes or research programs directed by the university system. The plans also could include new medical offices, a conference center and a series of new restaurants and retail stores.
Exactly how these buildings would be laid out and configured is left unspecified, and university officials say they don't expect a formal design plan to be ready for up to three years.
What is clear is the site this development would occupy at NASA Ames. The proposed campus would go on a 36.2-acre swath of land on the eastern side of the research park, immediately south of Hangar One. This area includes a scattering of older buildings from the airfield's military days.
In a presentation made to the UC Board of Regents last month, university staffers acknowledged that many details in the plans still needed to be worked out, but they were enthusiastic to swiftly move forward. For now, UC Berkeley officials are leading discussions with NASA, but the plans indicate that any of the 10 campuses or extension programs in the statewide UC system could participate in the new Moffett Field outpost.
In her remarks to the board of regents, UC Berkeley Chancellor Carol Christ said she believed the collaboration with NASA could operate like other fruitful academic partnerships, such as with the Lawrence Berkeley National Lab. University staff promoted the collaboration with NASA as a way to strengthen its programs in aerospace engineering, quantum computing and astrobiology.
"The prospects for our faculty and students to collaborate with NASA, industry in Silicon Valley and neighboring educational and research partners are quite attractive," Christ said. "We must reach and teach more Californians, and we believe that an opportunity for this kind of expansion in the heart of Silicon Valley is very compelling."
At this early stage, many details of the new campus remain up in the air, but UC officials say they have been in talks going back more than 15 years on collaborating with NASA on some kind of joint educational project. About a decade ago, UC Santa Cruz and the Foothill-De Anza Community College District were eyeing the same site for a similar research-park concept, but those plans reportedly fizzled a few years ago.
One point that has already drawn criticism in the new plans by UC Berkeley is a lack of sufficient housing. In all likelihood, the proposed office and commercial space would bring thousands more researchers and students to NASA Ames; however, the campus plans would build only 200 apartments as well as some kind of short-term lodging for visitors.
In recent months, NASA Ames officials have signaled they wanted to do more to address the housing and traffic concerns of their workforce. Just to the south of the proposed Berkeley campus, NASA is working to build a residential project with 2,000 apartment units, but that housing will be explicitly reserved for federal employees.
In a statement to the Voice, NASA officials said they are not stipulating housing as part of the Berkeley proposal.
Upon reviewing UC Berkeley's plans, former Mountain View councilman Lenny Siegel said he was dismayed to see that the project was implicitly treating housing as an afterthought. He pointed out that NASA Ames also allowed Google to build its 1.4 million square foot "Bay View" office with a comparatively meager housing component.
"This Berkeley plan could bring as many as 4,000 more employees. Where are they going to live, and how are they going to get to work?" he said. "It sounds great, but someone's got to think ahead about the housing and transportation."
In July, UC Berkeley officials released a request for qualifications for potential developers to draft a business plan that can be brought back to the board of regents. Before the end of the year, the university expects to make a formal proposal to NASA. If all goes according to plan, the project is anticipated to begin construction sometime in late 2022.