Update, 9 p.m.: The Berkeley City Council voted Tuesday night to support UC Berkeley’s state Supreme Court appeal of a lower court’s decision blocking development at People’s Park. The resolution authorizing the city attorney to send the letter was approved as part of the consent calendar at Tuesday’s meeting, with Councilmember Kate Harrison recording a no vote on the People’s Park item.
Original story: Mayor Jesse Arreguín and Southside Councilmember Rigel Robinson are asking the City Council to support UC Berkeley’s appeal in the state Supreme Court to build student housing at People’s Park.
Arreguín and Robinson submitted the urgency item for tonight’s City Council meeting (available here), saying further delays to UC construction will be detrimental to a local housing crisis.
A state appeals court sided with plaintiffs, Make UC a Good Neighbor and the People’s Park Historic Advocacy Group, in a lawsuit against UC Berkeley on Feb. 24. The lawsuit claims the university violated the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) by not considering alternative sites for a 1,100 bed-student dorm and potential supportive housing at People’s Park, as well as noise impacts to the surrounding neighborhood.
“The campus is dismayed by the appellate court’s unprecedented and dangerous decision to dramatically expand CEQA, and the campus will soon, in the days ahead, be petitioning the California Supreme Court to overturn it,” UC spokesperson Dan Mogulof said Tuesday.
Construction is currently stalled at People’s Park and has been held up in court for most of the pandemic. The university attempted to begin construction last summer during a brief lull between lawsuits, but was swiftly shut down by student and community activists and a renewed legal battle.
Those who oppose UC’s plan say student housing could be built on university-owned land elsewhere in the city that doesn’t house a historic park and homeless services hub, founded by local activists and residents in the late 1960s on the heels of the Free Speech Movement.
The Berkeley City Council supported the university throughout the process following the university’s $82 million settlement with the city in 2021. The two groups also partnered to provide temporary housing at the Rodeway Inn for people living at the park last summer.
Tuesday’s urgency item calls for a letter in support of the UC’s imminent appeal.
“The construction of this development is essential to reducing strain on our housing market and providing needed housing for our unhoused residents,” the item reads. “This decision could enable parties who oppose student housing, affordable housing or any kind of residential or commercial development to delay projects arguing that noisy occupants are an environmental impact.”
The City Council will meet at 6 p.m. in a hybrid setting. The online Zoom link and agenda are available here.
Featured image credit: Pete Rosos