Opinion: New campus agreement is an $80M win for the city

The settlement is the largest financial settlement any UC campus has paid to a host city.

The relationship between town and gown here in Berkeley is a strenuous one, and for years it has been out of balance. However, now we have begun to make that right.

In 2005, the city of Berkeley and UC Berkeley came to an agreement settling a lawsuit over the university’s Long Range Development Plan that established a $1.2 million annual payment from the campus to the city to account for the university’s use of city services. A woefully insufficient and inadequate number. That 2005 Long Range Development Plan laid out a plan for the university to build 2,500 beds of student housing by 2020, while increasing student enrollment by 1,650. Since then, the campus has built half as many beds, while enrollment has grown by several times what was planned for.

As the state grows, our institutions of higher education should grow too. We recognize and embrace that. But as the population of the campus has grown, that has placed a growing burden on city services ranging from our streets and storm drains to our Fire Department. And the campus’ failure to build the requisite housing to accommodate this growth has had consequential impacts on the surrounding community and housing market. Students have been forced to cram into overpacked units and look further and further from campus to find somewhere to live, pricing out and displacing long-term residents in the process. And at the same time, the risk of wildfires and our deferred maintenance needs only continue to worsen. That is not what balance looks like. But with our new agreement with UC Berkeley, we are much closer.

Last week, the city and university approved a monumental new $82.6 million agreement. This represents an $82.6 million win for the city of Berkeley, the largest financial settlement any UC campus has paid to a host city. The campus’ annual contribution to the city for use of city services and to account for its growth will skyrocket to $4.1 million annually and will continue to increase by 3% every year. That is money that we can invest right back into the community.


The agreement includes critical commitments from the campus to better the partnership between town and gown:

  • Funding allocated to support citywide and regional needs, including the Chancellor’s Community Partnership Fund, wildfire preparedness and prevention efforts in the East Bay Hills, and to the city’s Housing Trust Fund, in recognition of the demolition of eight rent-controlled units at 1921 Walnut Street for the Anchor House Student Housing Project
  • Funding for programs and infrastructure surrounding campus, including a daytime drop-in service center in the Telegraph area for the unhoused population, a campus social worker to work with the unhoused population who visit People’s Park and in the broader Telegraph area, a permanent restroom in the Telegraph area, Piedmont/Channing traffic circle pedestrian and street lighting improvements, and a joint BPD-UCPD Telegraph Area Beat
  • Commitments to establish a collaborative planning process for the city to review and comment on campus capital projects in the city environs, to typically voluntarily honor the City’s existing zoning standards, and to work cooperatively with the city to solicit community input for capital renovation and capital projects at the Clark Kerr Campus
  • And more, read the full settlement agreement here

These terms and commitments do more than just fund key improvements and programs for the city, they are about establishing common ground and building trust between the town and gown. They put necessary resources toward the resilience and safety of our community, while guaranteeing that the campus makes good on its commitments to build student housing for its students.

In one key area, however, we must share our frustration. The city council unanimously voted to oppose the university’s decision to purchase and demolish 1921 Walnut Street to make way for the upcoming Anchor House student housing project. As a state agency, the UC is able to evade our local regulations and tenant protections. The original plans for Anchor House, an important project that will provide much-needed housing to populations who need it deeply, did not include demolishing 1921 Walnut Street. While we are appreciative of the relocation benefits that the campus is providing to tenants and for the payments the campus will make to the city’s Housing Trust Fund in recognition of the removal of these units, this situation should not have existed in the first place. It is unfortunate that the UC can freely evict tenants to enable its expansion. We implore our representatives in Sacramento to seek solutions to this issue so that this situation does not set a dangerous precedent here in Berkeley or for other campuses.

There will continue to be growing pains between the campus and the city. We are a growing region, after all, and are learning to adapt to that reality together. However, this new agreement creates a new launching point for our cooperation and collaboration on our shared goals. And truly, it could not come at a better time as we chart a course through our pandemic recovery and prepare to welcome the campus community back to the city for in-person instruction in a few weeks.

We each came into leadership of the city by way of the campus, making a name for ourselves as student activists routinely challenging the university as an institution before running for office. We know intimately what a challenge the UC can be to deal with, but also how much good the campus has the potential to do. With this deal, we are creating an environment where this world-class university and this world-class city can work together like never before.

Our gratitude to the city staff that have fine-tuned this agreement, to campus leaders for coming to the table, and to the people of Berkeley for your trust. This agreement is a victory for all of us.

Jesse Arreguín is the mayor of Berkeley. Rigel Robinson is the city councilmember for District 7, which encompasses the UC Berkeley campus. Both are UC Berkeley alumni.