Opinion: Berkeley must use its leverage to force UC Berkeley to grow at a reasonable rate

In 2005, city officials worked out a back-room deal with Cal. That can’t happen again.

The city of Berkeley and UC Berkeley are meeting in private sessions right now regarding UC Berkeley’s Long Range Development Plan (LRDP) and pending and threatened lawsuits over UCB development projects as well as a potential settlement.

Berkeley has a great deal of leverage with UC Berkeley right now in determining the university’s future development plans and our community’s quality of life and sustainability. It’s important that Berkeley city council leaders don’t miss or squander this important opportunity.

Berkeley has a great deal of leverage with UC Berkeley right now in determining the university’s future development plans and our community’s quality of life and sustainability.

We believe the possible settlement terms should be disclosed now so that the public can have meaningful input. In 2005, the council presented a settlement as a fait accompli, which was extremely controversial. Mayor Jesse Arreguín and other council members have attacked that process.

If the Council is discussing settlement, now is the time to be transparent.


The city stands to strengthen its leverage over the next few weeks.  A court ruling in the pending Goldman School/Upper Hearst project is imminent.  The state attorney general has issued strong guidance regarding new development in wildlands and has intervened in several projects in high fire hazard zones. UCB is also under court order to notify 700 nearby property owners of its suit against them to overturn land use covenants at the Clark Kerr campus. Finally, UCB has suffered an embarrassing series of legal losses due to a combination of incompetence, a hyper-aggressive approach to environmental analysis, and an expensive “let ‘em sue us” legal strategy that has backfired.

UCB’s 2021 LRDP will have a profound and lasting impact on Berkeley’s quality of life, safety, and sustainability.  The university proposes to build up to 8.1 million square feet of new buildings (the equivalent of 6 Salesforce towers), parking for 3,000 more cars, and an additional 14,750 more students (a 44% increase over the 2005 LRDP enrollment figure and over 3,500 additional employees. Yet UCB in its recently released environmental analysis has identified virtually no environmental impacts, a conclusion that stretches credulity beyond any reasonable doubt.

The city estimates that it costs (net of tax revenues attributable to the university) more than $20 million annually to provide city services to UCB but the campus only contributes $1.6 million annually per the 2005 agreement.

We are confident that Berkeley’s mayor and City Council will do the right thing and achieve a settlement that achieves the best for Berkeley.  A good settlement would look like this:

  • A contribution to the city of at least $10 million annually to cover the costs of city services provided to the university.
  • A legally enforceable cap on student enrollment that is tied to UCB’s production of student housing and mitigation of traffic impacts.
  • A commitment to locate administrative units and programs on the nearby underutilized Richmond Field Station.
  • Extension of the Clark Kerr covenants to mitigate existing violations and a long-term enforceable guarantee of public access.
  • Application of the same standards for historic preservation for UCB’s projects on the university’s Campus Park and in the city environs, including parks and open space.
  • No new development, intensification of use, or activities that escalate fire risk in state-designated Very High Fire Hazard Severity Zones—California’s most dangerous fire zones.

These provisions are entirely reasonable based on what other communities have negotiated with the UC Regents. Santa Cruz, San Diego, and Davis have negotiated enrollment caps tied to housing and environmental mitigations. Ditto Stanford University and Santa Clara County (Stanford committed to no new vehicle trips for its major expansion under its 2000 general use permit and proposed over 2,100 workforce housing units (1/3 affordable) in a recent permit application).

While the mayor and city council are committed to expanding Berkeley’s housing supply in the face of an unprecedented affordability crisis, without an enforceable commitment by UCB to build housing as it expands its enrollment and staff, Berkeley will fall further and further behind in meeting its housing production goals. Consequently, apartment rents and housing prices will continue to escalate, leaving Berkeley’s economically disadvantaged residents at even higher risk of displacement and intensifying social and economic inequities in the community.

Many recent court cases have ruled that state universities must pay the full cost of mitigating their impacts on their host communities. Based upon these legal principles, the city is entitled to ask for a significant annual payment by UCB to cover the cost of city services and give relief to Berkeley taxpayers who are our community’s homeowners, renters, and businesses.

The terms of the settlement with UCB will define the legacy of our mayor and council. We are optimistic that our elected leaders will negotiate the best settlement for Berkeley with a publicly informed process.

This opinion piece was submitted by representatives of the Southside Neighborhood Consortium:

 Joan Barnett, president, Dwight Hillside Neighborhood Association
George Beier, president, Willard Neighborhood Association
Phil Bokovoy, president, Save Berkeley’s Neighborhoods, co-convener, SNC
Lesley Emmington, president, Make UC A Good Neighbor
Dean Metzger, president, Claremont Elmwood Neighborhood Association and the Berkeley Neighborhoods Council
Andrew Johnson, president, Bateman Neighborhood Association
Gianna Ranuzzi, president, Le Conte Neighborhood Association
David Shiver, Stuart Street/Willard, co-convener, SNC
Michael Kelly, president, Panoramic Hill Association
Lisa Bruce, president, Berkeley Together

The Southside Neighborhood Consortium represents more than 1,500 residents who live in neighborhoods impacted by UC Berkeley. The SNC advocates for the adoption of land use planning best practices by both the city of Berkeley and University of California.