UC Berkeley campus, sunset.
UC Berkeley campus and the city of Berkeley at sunset.Credit: Alyosha Efros Credit: Alyosha Efros

An Alameda County Superior Court judge has ruled that UC Berkeley abused its discretion when it failed to study the impacts of increasing its student enrollment by 33.7%. — and told the university it must do a more comprehensive review.

While UC Berkeley did follow CEQA properly while analyzing how a new academic and housing project for the Goldman School of Public Policy would impact the environment, its examination of how student growth would impact housing in Berkeley, noise, and uses of city services was “legally insufficient,” Judge Brad Seligman wrote in a decision handed down Friday. UC Berkeley had argued in a supplemental draft environmental impact report that it did not study the impacts of the enrollment increase because it was not a “project” per se like constructing a building.

A June ruling by the California Court of Appeal found otherwise: “CEQA requires public universities to mitigate the environmental impacts of growth and development,” Seligman noted.

Phil Bokovoy, the plaintiff in Save Berkeley Neighborhoods, one of the two lawsuits that Seligman ruled on, said the judgment has huge consequences for UC Berkeley.

“It’s a big deal,” said Bokovoy. “They will have to build housing or reduce enrollment — those are their only two choices,” he said.

UC Berkeley, however, had an entirely different reaction to the judge’s ruling, which is not final. “Overall, we are pleased with the court’s findings,” Dan Mogulof, a university spokesman, said in a statement. “We do not anticipate this ruling will have an impact on future enrollment or requires us to analyze past enrollment increases.”

UC Berkeley will be able to proceed with its Upper Hearst Development project, an Alameda County Superior Court judge ruled. Here is a rendering of a residential and parking building at La Loma Avenue and Ridge Road. Credit: Solomon Cordwell Buenz

Going forward, UC Berkeley will have to study the physical impacts of enrollment growth but not the social or economic ones, according to UC Berkeley’s interpretation of the judge’s ruling, said Mogulof.

Tom Lippe, the attorney representing Bokovoy’s group, Save Berkeley Neighborhoods, said Mogulof’s words are “PR, just boilerplate legalese.” CEQA does not require a body to study the social and economic impacts of a project.

“The court is requiring them to analyze the impact on housing, meaning the displacement of people,” said Lippe. “They have to go back and study the impacts.”

Save Berkeley Neighborhoods and the city of Berkeley have 10 days to draft an order on how UC Berkeley should comply with the judge’s ruling, said Lippe. That is just the next step in the process. After UC Berkeley performs its impact analysis, it may lead to certain steps, like a reduction of enrollment, said Lippe.

City Council to consider broad settlement with UC Berkeley

The city of Berkeley and UC Berkeley are in final negotiations of a settlement, however, that could put to rest for now how the university will pay for the impacts it has on the city, according to a number of sources who asked not to be named. The city council will discuss the settlement, which has not been made public, and could vote on it as early as this week.

The proposed agreement apparently addresses a number of points of tension that led Berkeley to file a suit against UC Berkeley in June 2019 about the increased student enrollment. Those tensions — around the campus population, the university’s inability to house the majority of its students and its use of city resources — resurfaced this spring after UC Berkeley released a new long-range development plan and environmental impact report that charts its course through the 2036-37 academic year. The university has just finalized those plans and the UC Board of Regents will vote on them next week.

UC Berkeley is not paying for city services currently

The city of Berkeley and UC Berkeley currently don’t have a working agreement between them for the university’s use of city services. It lapsed a few months ago after the terms of the 2005 long-range plan lapsed. UC Berkeley has been paying about $1.8 million annually for its use of Berkeley’s fire, police, emergency and public health services. Berkeley now contends that the actual cost is around $21 million a year, a number that UC Berkeley disputes.

Berkeley has long complained that UC Berkeley does not provide enough housing for its students. In fact, Cal provides the lowest percentage of beds of any campus in the UC system. In the last long-range development plan approved in 2005, UC Berkeley said it would build about 2,500 student beds, but has actually constructed half that number, Berkeley pointed out in a scathing response to Cal’s future plans.

UC Berkeley’s new LRDP states that it will build 11,200 beds in the next 15 years. Two projects, the Anchor House project on University Avenue and Oxford Street, and one on People’s Park, are in the planning phases and will create about 1,900 beds. But as Berkeley pointed out in its response to the LRDP and draft EIR, there are no consequences if those beds are not constructed. In addition, that will still mean 70% of Cal students won’t have university-provided housing.

Residents decry ‘non-transparent process’

Numerous citizen groups plan to address the city council this afternoon and the Board of Regents when they meet on July 20-21. They are concerned that the city of Berkeley is committing itself to a settlement with UC Berkeley without allowing public input. This is a repeat of 2005 when Berkeley and UC Berkeley also reached a financial settlement behind closed doors, some critics contend.

“This nontransparent process disenfranchises Berkeley residents from knowing the details of what will have long-term consequences for our city,” Harvey Smith, a member of People’s Park Historic District Advocacy Group, which opposed the university’s plan to build housing on People’s Park, wrote in an op-ed for Berkeleyside.

A number of groups have allied themselves and set out terms they think Berkeley should demand from UC Berkeley. The Southside Neighborhood Consortium, a collection of neighborhood groups, has asked that UC Berkeley contribute $10 million annually to pay for city services and agree to a “legally enforceable cap of student enrollment that is tied to UC Berkeley’s production of student housing and mitigation of traffic impacts,” among other demands. More than 1,000 people have signed a petition put forward by a new group, Berkeley Citizens for a Better Plan, stating that Cal must adjust its growth goals to make them better for city residents.

Under state law, UC Berkeley, as a state institution, does not have to comply with city law. Other cities in California, notably Davis, San Diego, and Santa Cruz, have gotten the UC campuses in their cities to agree to enrollment and growth terms mostly through the courts.

Whatever agreement Berkeley and UC Berkeley make won’t affect the neighborhood group that just sued Cal and has won other CEQA cases, said Lippe. It might not satisfy the judge’s ruling either, he said.

“A settlement between UC and the city of Berkeley does not inherently satisfy the judge’s ruling,” said Lippe. “Only a new analysis done by CEQA satisfies the judge’s ruling.”

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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...