aerial view of Sather Tower and Campanile Esplanade at UC Berkeley
UC Berkeley wants to add 12,000 people to its campus in the next 15 years, build 8 million square feet of housing research space and parking. Credit: UC Berkeley

The city of Berkeley issued a scathing 75-page response to UC Berkeley’s 2021 Long Range Development Plan and accompanying draft environment impact report saying they are so flawed and inadequate that both must be revised.

The university failed in most every case to do any serious analysis of the impacts of its projected growth through 2036, Jordan Klein, the acting head of the planning department said in the letter sent during the public comment period for the draft EIR. Instead, UC Berkeley provided perfunctory responses to how it would mitigate impacts from a rising campus population, increased carbon emissions, increased sewer use, air, noise, and transportation impacts and how the campus will handle increased wildfire risks. The university’s reports are so inadequate that they do not comply with the California Environmental Quality Act, he wrote.

“The University must fully disclose the impacts of its development projects and anticipated growth and mitigate the environmental impacts of those projects,” Klein wrote.

Over the next 15 years, UC Berkeley plans to increase its campus population by about 22%, from 55,130 to 67,200 people. The campus hopes to add about 8 million square feet to its existing 11.8 million square feet footprint, including the addition of 11,730 student beds, 549 faculty and staff beds, and 1,240 additional parking spaces, which will mostly be added around the perimeter of the campus, according to the LRDP.

UC Berkeley has gotten hundreds of comments on its LRDP and DEIR and will respond to every one of them in writing, as required by California law, said Kyle Gibson, the director of communications for UC Berkeley’s capital strategies department. UC Berkeley plans to present the draft of the two documents to the Board of Regents at its May meeting and hopes the regents will approve the final documents in July, he said.

While the city is critical of most aspects of the two documents, it expressed its greatest concern that the long-range plan allows for a huge campus population increase but does not promise to build enough housing to accommodate that growth.

UC Berkeley ranks lowest of the UCs in the percentage of students it houses. Cal only houses 22% of its undergraduates and 9% of its graduate students, providing 8,700 beds for a student population of 42,000. The average across the system is 38.1% for undergraduates and 19.6% for graduate students. This mismatch between the number of students UC Berkeley has and the number of beds it provides has placed huge strains on the housing situation in Berkeley and has led to about 10% of students to experience some homelessness, Klein noted.

The long-range plan calls for Cal to build 11,200 beds by 2036. The first two up, which will house about 1,960 students and which are analyzed in the DEIR, is the Anchor House project on Oxford Street with about 760 beds for transfer students and a 16 or 17 -story tower on People’s Park that will hold 1,000-1,200 students. (The final design has not been determined yet).

Not even those beds are guaranteed, but should be, wrote Klein. In 2005, in its LRDP, UC Berkeley pledged to add 2,500 beds by 2020. It has only constructed half of those, Klein wrote. Even adding 11,200 more beds is inadequate as it will mean Cal only houses 31% of its population, (20,751 beds) leaving the remaining 70% of campus students, faculty, and staff to live off-campus, many of them in Berkeley

Adding thousands of new residents in a city that already has a housing shortage would exacerbate challenging conditions by increasing demand for housing and displacing non-student residents,” wrote Klein. “The result has been a cycle of housing demand for the campus population that significantly outpaces supply. The proposed LRDP Update would continue this cycle and exacerbate an already untenable housing shortage. … Now, UC Berkeley is proposing an LRDP update that once again includes no specific commitment to develop an adequate amount of housing to serve the unmet housing demand.”

The proposed increase in the campus population has numerous environmental impacts “including those relating to transportation, air quality and greenhouse gas emissions,” which the DEIR does not address, wrote Klein.

The DEIR also says the long-range plan will greatly impact air quality and noise. “However, instead of identifying mitigation measures to avoid or minimize these impacts, the document relies on largely unenforceable “Continuing Best Practices” (“CBPs”) or merely kicks the can down the road, deferring mitigation to CEQA review at the project level,” wrote Klein. “Such fundamental errors undermine the integrity of the EIR. As a result, the University would violate CEQA were it to certify this fatally flawed EIR.”

Another indication of how flawed the DEIR is revealed in its discussion of a new wastewater treatment plant to produce non-potable water, wrote Klein. The DEIR only provides two sentences about this project, “failing to disclose the location, size, and related infrastructure that would be associated with the treatment facility,” he wrote.

Berkeley’s letter points out other concerns regarding the impact on transportation, sewer use, fire and police services and more.

Any delay in the approval of the final EIR will mean a delay in the construction of new academic buildings and badly-needed housing, said Gibson. “In the case of the two housing projects, Anchor House and People’s Park, it is accurate to say that delaying their approval by even a few months could delay the entire construction schedule so that they are not completed by the start of the targeted academic year.”

aerial view of People's Park
View of People’s Park in 2018. Credit: UC Berkeley

Hundreds oppose building housing on People’s Park

The city of Berkeley is not the only agency that is questioning UC Berkeley’s future plans.

More than 200 people have signed a letter drafted by The People’s Park Historic District Advocacy Group opposing UC Berkeley’s plan to build a student housing complex in People’s Park. Many members of this group and other community members also spoke out against this at an April 13 hearing held by the City Council.

The letter blasts the destruction of a park in a densely populated portion of the city, as well as the destruction of a historically significant site.

“No northern city was more affected by the great social and cultural movements of the ’60s than Berkeley and no event in Berkeley history brought together more of the diverse forces of that era than the conflict over People’s Park in 1969,” the letter reads. “That is why the park is designated as a landmark by the City of Berkeley and the State of California and is deemed eligible for listing on the National Register of Historic Places.

“And that is why the People’s Park Historic District Advocacy Group and the undersigned call upon the University of California to work with the Berkeley community to protect and enhance People’s Park. Just as the nation preserves the great battlefields of the Civil War of the 1860s, so should it preserve places like People’s Park that commemorate the great social and cultural conflicts of the 1960s.”

Those signing the letter include two former Berkeley mayors, three former Berkeley City Council members, many former Berkeley commissioners, UC Berkeley professors, students and alumni, attorneys, architects, historians, among others.

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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...