The University of California just lost one of its appeals to the state Supreme Court, which means it will have to withhold around 5,000 acceptance letters that it was intending to send out to incoming first-year students in the next few weeks.
UC Berkeley is in a battle currently with a group of Berkeley residents who contend that the school has been growing its enrollment at an irresponsible pace while not providing adequate housing for its student population. The result, says the group, which is called Save Berkeley’s Neighborhoods, is that city services are strained, and there's less housing for the city's poorest residents.
Save Berkeley Neighborhoods won a court ruling in Alameda County last summer over UC's planned construction of a complex called Upper Hearst, which would contain professor and graduate student housing as well as new classroom space. Alameda County Superior Court Judge Brad Seligman ruled in favor of the residents' group, saying that the Upper Hearst project could not move forward until the university redid an analysis of its environmental impacts — deeming an existing analysis inadequate.
The school currently enrolls 45,057 students at all levels, and in allowing the lower court's ruling to stand Thursday, the state Supreme Court is forcing UC Berkeley to cap enrollment next year at 42,237 — which was the 2020 enrollment number. That means around 3,050 fewer spots for first-year and transfer students, who would otherwise have been receiving letters in late March or early April.
As the LA Times explains, this fight dates back to 2016, when Save Berkeley Neighborhoods and its president, Phil Bokovoy, first discovered that UC Berkeley had far exceeded its own 2005 growth strategy, admitting about 30% more students than planned. (The school began admitting more out-of-state students after the Great Recession, in order to make up for lost revenue from the state, with out-of-state students paying far higher tuition than in-state students.) Now, there are about 9,000 more students enrolled at the school than there were a decade ago, but the university has not built new housing to match that growth.
The City of Berkeley joined in the fight, as the Chronicle reports, suing the University of California in 2019 over its impacts on police and city services. The school settled that suit, pledging to give the city $82.6 million over 16 years, and the city withdrew its objections to the Upper Hearst development.
Now, Berkeley Mayor Jesse Arreguin joined Governor Gavin Newsom in opposing the enrollment cap, with both supporting the school's growth. But Save Berkeley Neighborhoods wants to hold the university to account, and have them re-do their analyses of how their growing enrollment is impacting the city's housing crisis, and homelessness.
For now, the courts have agreed, though the school was separately appealing the enrollment cap for 2022-2023. Their appeal of the halt on the Upper Hearst development is still being considered.
Last week, anticipating a possible negative outcome at the CA Supreme Court, UC Berkeley sent out an email to some 150,000 applicants referring to the "dire situation" they were in, and how the court's decision could have a "a tragic outcome for thousands of students" who dream of attending the school.
Newsom weighed in in an amicus brief, saying, "The State’s public higher education system drives equitable and upward mobility, helping first-generation and lower-income Californians realize their full educational and professional potential." And, he said, "We can’t let a lawsuit get in the way of the education and dreams of thousands of students who are our future leaders and innovators."
But Bokovoy calls all of this rhetoric "overblown," and his group's answer to the bemoaning of limited enrollment is simply that the university can accept fewer out-of-state and international students, and more from in-state.
There are many critics who object to the use of the state's environmental impact law, CEQA, to stymy development of all kinds, all in the name of "the environment." And CEQA has been used in any number of ways by groups that simply don't want to see something built in their midst.
Bokovy insists his group isn't trying to stop the Upper Hearst project from happening, only that it's trying to force UC Berkeley to better acknowledge all of its various impacts on the community. Their suit points to impacts on emergency services, impacts of noisy parties, as well as crowded parks and streets.
The school, says Save Berkeley Neighborhoods, needs to stop "forcing its impact on communities and not doing anything about it."
Photo: Jeremy Huang