UC Berkeley should not be trying to include a jump in student enrollment in the supplemental environmental impact report (SEIR) it is preparing for a new academic and housing complex on Hearst Avenue, Mayor Jesse Arreguín contends.

The jump to 44,735 students on campus by 2022-23 differs significantly from the 2020 Long Range Development Plan (LRDP) the university signed off on in 2005, and to which the city of Berkeley agreed, Arreguín wrote in a letter that he sent to Cal. So UC Berkeley should prepare a separate report on the enrollment increase rather use the SEIR on the Upper Hearst plan as a way to update its LRDP, he wrote.

“Increase in campus headcount by 11,285 students and its impacts were not studied in the 2020 LRDP and are, therefore, not ‘consistent’ with the project,” Arreguín wrote. The 2005 report said “the student population would grow by only 1,650 students between the 2001/02 academic year and then stabilize at that number by 2010. Instead, the student population has increased by almost seven times over that studied in the 2020 (report).”

But UC officials said that CEQA law requires the university to include the bumped-up enrollment figures in its examination of the Upper Hearst project. They also contend that the impact of increased enrollment has been less than what was expected in the 2005 LRDP and that the university has actually reduced its impact on the city in many ways, including a reduction in greenhouse gas emissions, solid waste, and water use.

“As you know, the campus has received suggestions that it “sever the population issue from the Upper Hearst Project EIR,” Dan Mogulof, a campus spokesman, wrote in an email, responding to questions from Berkeleyside. “However, CEQA requires that the campus compare the potential impacts of a housing project such as the Upper Hearst Project with existing environmental conditions at the time the CEQA review occurs. Those environmental conditions most certainly include the current campus headcount. It is only by comparing the project with these baseline physical conditions that the campus can determine whether an impact is significant.”

The comments by Arreguín were submitted during the public input process for the SEIR for the Upper Hearst Way project, which would add a new academic building for the Goldman School of Public Policy and a housing complex on Hearst Avenue and La Loma Avenue. The letter was also on the April 2 City Council agenda. The city of Berkeley is planning to submit another set of comments, according to Matthai Chakko, a city spokesman. The public comment period closes on April 12.

Berkeley sued Cal in 2005 over its projected growth

In 2005, UC Berkeley prepared an LRDP that projected the university’s growth until 2020. Officials determined that the university would build 2.2 million square feet of new space in that time. The university also projected there would be 33,450 students on campus by 2020.

The city of Berkeley sued the university over its LRDP in 2005, arguing that the plan did not sufficiently examine the impacts of its building expansion on the city. The two sides settled after UC Berkeley agreed to triple the amount it paid for city services, such as fire protection and sewer use, from $500,000 a year to $1.2 million a year, adjusted 3% annually for inflation. In 2018/2019, the university paid Berkeley $1,770,698, according to Mogulof. That included $285,000 in payments from the Chancellor’s Fund.

Arreguín said in his letter that now that Cal’s student enrollment has increased seven times more than projected in 2005, UC should increase its payments. The SEIR does not examine how increased enrollment will impact Berkeley’s fire and police departments, he said. (The SEIR does examine how the increased enrollment impacts services on the campus).

“It is time to look at renegotiating this agreement to require greater contributions from the University.” — Jesse Arreguín

“It is time to look at renegotiating this agreement to require greater contributions from the University,” the mayor wrote in a community newsletter.

Arreguín also questioned UC Berkeley’s ability to house its growing number of students, and noted that the SEIR examined the impact on the campus but did not look at how a bigger population would affect the city. In the 2020 LRDP, the university said it would build 2,600 beds. It has only constructed 1,119 so far, said Arreguín.

“This growth has real impacts on our city: damage to our roads, impacts on our sewer system, congestion on our streets, noise and other quality of life impacts, and increasing demands on our Fire and Police Departments,” Arreguín wrote in a mayoral newsletter. “UC’s significant enrollment growth and the impacts it has on our city needs to be adequately mitigated.”

The mayor did not respond to Berkeleyside’s attempts to talk to him more about his complaints.

UC Berkeley has announced that it intends to build 7,500 more bed for students in the next decade.

Arreguín said trying to wrap the student increase into the SEIR for the Upper Hearst project “would be detrimental to our partnership going forward.”

Some object to the Upper Hearst project

Upper Hearst Development. Image: American Campus Communities
A rendering of the Upper Hearst project development. Image: American Campus Communities

UC Berkeley officials held a public hearing March 12 (and another later that month) to gather comments on the planned one-acre residential and academic complex at the top of Hearst Avenue. The project will add a new 37,000-square-foot building for the Goldman School of Public Policy as well as create 150 new residential units.

The parking complex on Hearst Avenue and La Loma, with its 400 parking spaces, would be torn down, although the project would create 200 other parking spaces, as well as 52 bike spaces. The work will require the removal of 49 trees, including two redwoods and a historic Camperdown elm in front of an 1894 historic structure designed by Ernest Coxhead that once housed the Beta Theta Phi fraternity and is now used by the Goldman School of Public Policy

Many people spoke out against the project. Some called it too large but said they would support it if the housing complex was reduced in scale and its exterior cladding changed so it could better fit in with the neighborhood. Others said the loss of parking would be a hardship on university faculty and staff, particularly working parents who often have to dash to pick up their school-age children. Others said that the neighborhood was already impacted by recent traffic changes to Hearst Avenue. More cars are now using neighborhood streets to avoid the traffic calming measures on Hearst and any new changes might increase those impacts, they said.

Cloyne Court. Photo: Siegel and Strain Architects

Steven Finacom, the chair of Berkeley’s Landmark Preservation Commission, criticized the plan. He pointed out that that the Northside neighborhood has tremendous historical significance to Berkeley and the Bay Area. Many architects connected to UC Berkeley designed and built structures on the Northside that made up part of what is called the First Bay Tradition. In addition to the Beta Theta Pi fraternity house, which was designed by the architect Ernest Coxhead, there is the historic Cloyne Court, at 2600 Ridge Rd, designed by John Galen Howard in 1904. (Built as a hotel, it is now cooperative student housing). Julia Morgan, Bernard Maybeck, Lillian Bridgman, Arthur Brown Jr., and John Bakewell, Jr. all designed buildings in the area that exemplified the brown-shingle buildings for which Berkeley became known. Many of these structures burned during the 1923 fire, although a few remain, including three on Ridge Road directly facing the project.

The new 150-unit, six-story apartment complex will not only dwarf nearby homes, but its exterior cladding is white and modern and bears no architectural resemblance to the neighborhood, according to a letter written by the Landmarks Preservation Commission. When UC Berkeley built the Foothill Housing complex on Gayley Road and Hearst Avenue, it at least put on wood siding so the building would blend in, the commission noted.

“Unfortunately, the project design … fails to make even a slight concession to its historic setting,” the letter reads.

The commission also said the planned academic building “is too large in relation to the historic Beta Theta Pi fraternity building that serves as part of the GSPP [Goldman School of Public Policy]…The new building should not loom hugely over the older building or partially block views of it from the public street.”

Finacom said he talked with the architectural firm involved in the design and its members did not seem to have a sense of the architectural significance of the neighborhood, which may be one reason the apartment complex has white cladding.

UC Berkeley is a state institution and does not have to comply with local zoning or design laws.

It’s a “jarring, massive brutalist structure,” said Lesley Emmington Jones, a preservationist involved in crafting Berkeley’s ordinance.

Update: This article was updated after publication to add UC Berkeley’s perspective that the growth in enrollment has had a lesser impact on the city of Berkeley that anticipated in 2005, and that the university has made strides in reducing its impact in numerous ways through new systems and controls.

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...