Judge freezes UC Berkeley’s student enrollment at 2020-21 levels

An Alameda County judge ruled that campus must study the impacts of its growth before it expands any further.

Masses of students at UC Berkeley
Masses of UC Berkeley students walk through Sather Gate in 2019. An Alameda County Superior Court judge has frozen Cal’s enrollment levels until it addresses the environmental impact of increasing student body levels by 33.7% over the last 15 years. Credit: Jef Poskanzer

An Alameda County judge has ordered UC Berkeley to freeze its enrollment at 2020-21 levels going forward until the university redoes a supplemental environmental impact report (SEIR) for a complex on Hearst Avenue that includes housing and a new academic building for the Goldman School of Public Policy. The freeze will take effect in 2022-23.

The order to freeze enrollment comes a little more than a month after Judge Brad Seligman ruled that UC Berkeley abused its discretion when it failed to study the impacts of increasing its enrollment by 33.7%, or 11,285 students, from 2005 to 2020. That was just one of the deficiencies in the supplemental environmental impact report for what is called the Upper Hearst Project, the judge ruled.

Seligman also ordered the UC Board of Regents to void its 2018 approval of the Upper Hearst project and to decertify the supplemental environmental impact report. Cal must redo the SEIR to address certain issues, including how student enrollment increases have affected noise, housing and displacement in Berkeley, the judge ruled.

The ruling is not only a victory for neighbors upset with UC Berkeley’s growth and its mitigation measures, but for other communities in California struggling to deal with UC campus impacts, said Phil Bokovoy, the president of Save Berkeley’s Neighborhoods, which filed the original lawsuit.


“This is how UC is behaving in lots of different places — forcing its impact on communities and not doing anything about it,” said Bokovoy. “It’s the first time a judge has said UC cannot continue to grow and has frozen its enrollment.”

Dan Mogulof, a UC Berkeley spokesman, said Cal will move quickly to address the judge’s concerns so it can continue to add students.

“We are optimistic that we can file documents with the court very soon that will satisfy the judgment with regard to future increases in enrollment,” Mogulof wrote in an email. “It will probably take the university between six and eight months to address the requirements of the judgment with regard to the Upper Hearst project. We are confident that the court will ultimately permit us to proceed with the Upper Hearst project.”

Just a few weeks ago, on July 13, Mogulof said the university was “pleased” with the court’s findings and did “not anticipate this ruling will have an impact on future enrollment.”

In court documents, UC Berkeley had argued that an environmental review was only needed when a building or other structure was built, not when the number of students on campus went up. Judge Seligman disagreed.

The Upper Hearst project would expand the Goldman School of Public Policy’s footprint. Rendering: UC Berkeley/Solomon Cordwell Buenz/American Campus Communities

Impact of enrollment increases for Goldman School

Berkeley officials first unveiled plans to transform the area around Hearst and La Loma avenues in 2018. The plan included a new academic building for the Goldman School as well as a 150-bed housing complex for faculty. Groundbreaking was planned for the fall of 2018.

But Save Berkeley’s Neighborhoods and the city of Berkeley sued, stating the SEIR was inadequate and did not comply with CEQA, the state’s environmental law. The city complained that the university was trying to sneak a huge growth in student enrollment into the SEIR without examining its impacts and the costs to Berkeley for providing emergency services. In 2005, in a long-range development plan, UC Berkeley had said it only anticipated increasing student enrollment by 1,650 people by 2020. But as the state legislature reduced funding to the UC system, the Regents ordered certain campuses, including Cal, to add more students to bring in income. In 2019, UC Berkeley said enrollment had gone up by 11,285 students.

In 2020-21, student enrollment was 42,035 students.

Berkeley sued in 2019 but dropped the suit when the City Council voted on July 13 to enter into an $83 million agreement with UC Berkeley. Cal will pay Berkeley $4.1 million a year over the next 16 years for its use of city services in exchange for Berkeley dropping its opposition to the new 2021 long-range development plan and environmental impact report.

That left Save Berkeley’s Neighborhoods to pursue its case against UC Berkeley.

“The city could have negotiated a much better deal for Berkeley had they waited for this judgment,” Bokovoy wrote in a press release. “As it is they sold taxpayers short with a ‘pennies on the dollar’ annual payment and no enforceable commitments to build housing and mitigate impacts.”

Mayor Jesse Arreguín disagreed with that assessment and noted that Berkeley’s agreement with UC Berkeley was one of the largest ever made between a city and a UC campus.

“The city of Berkeley’s settlement with UC Berkeley focused on mitigating the financial impacts of campus growth through increased annual payments, not a cap on enrollment. Nothing in the judge’s recent ruling mandates more money to the city or neighborhoods.

Personally, I do not think the city should stand in the way of UC making progress in addressing our housing crisis and preventing future generations of students from getting a world-class education. The 2021 LRDP will result in more student housing, academic space and support services to address the needs of a growing student population.

The City’s agreement, one of the largest between a UC campus and host city, will result in increased funding for fire, public safety and capital projects around the campus. Our agreement will not be impacted by this decision, and the city will continue to benefit from more funding to mitigate impacts, and better collaboration between the city and campus around future growth.”

Update, 8:40 p.m.: This article was updated after Berkeleyside received a statement from the mayor. 

Frances Dinkelspiel is co-founder and executive editor of Cityside. Email: frances@citysidejournalism.org.