Legislators in Sacramento are working to craft a quick solution to the University of California's legal battle with a citizens' group in Berkeley, in order that they may be able to admit 2,000 more students this month. And it entails a small revision to CEQA.
Yes, Sacramento politicos may make another alteration to the mammoth California Environmental Quality Act in order to get UC Berkeley out from under an enrollment cap being enforced by the courts. And that's probably a good thing, though they should perhaps be overhauling the whole thing so that citizens' groups can't fight every last development in the state under the guise of "environmental" concern.
As the New York Times reports, Assemblymember Phil Ting (D-SF), who chairs the Assembly budget committee, is proposing new legislation that will give UC Berkeley the wiggle room it needs to admit the 3,050 new students it says it wants to admit for the 2022-23 academic year. The legislation will amend CEQA, but only the portion of the law that pertains to "the environmental impact reports [EIRs] required as part of long-range development plans at public universities in California," per the Times. "It would give higher education leaders 18 months to remedy deficiencies when the courts determine that a campus population exceeds projections, and would ensure that any remedy being sought now would not apply to current enrollment."
The battle over this year's enrollment number has made national headlines, probably because everyone is so amused elsewhere in the country whenever a small handful of California NIMBYs are able to thwart a major development or institution.
That's what happened last week when a group called Save Berkeley Neighborhoods won a court decision over an EIR for a campus development, a decision that caps Cal admissions at 2020 levels, or 42,237 students. Current enrollment is 45,057, and the residents' group is fighting over the issue that UC Berkeley only provides housing for about 20% of its student body, which in turn puts pressure on the local housing market. Also, they say, more students means more strain on city services, like the police — but the City of Berkeley has been siding with the university on this, after settling its own fight and getting more funding from the school back in 2019.
"If this [bill] passes and is signed, it will allow Berkeley to go forward with full planned enrollment and no reduction," Ting said in comments to the Times.
Governor Gavin Newsom is sure to sign it, after he's already weighed in with an amicus brief and public comments about needing to allow the university to grow.
Save Berkeley Neighborhoods clearly knows they're going to lose out in the long run, which is why last weekend they put out a weird public statement offering to end their fight and temporarily and "allow" UC Berkeley to admit 1,000 extra students so long as they agreed not to seek a legislative workaround. The university basically said "fuck you" to that, and here we are.
The university has remained under pressure to admit more in-state students, even though it's lagging on the housing front. As the Times notes, this is both because "Demand for admission to the highly ranked University of California system is intense and economic projections indicate that the supply of highly skilled workers is far short of the level the state needs [in the future]."
And, reps for the university told the Chronicle this week that they are constantly in a "Catch-22" with Berkeley residents, who fight them equally hard when they want to build more student housing as when they want to admit more students. Dan Mogulof, a spokesperson for UC Berkeley, tells the paper that if the current lawsuits succeed, they "could jeopardize, delay or stop [the university's] efforts to build more student housing."
In his statement to the Times, Ting said, "We all know how hard students work to get into college, and UC Berkeley is a huge accomplishment for any student — the time they spend to achieve that is a lifetime worth of work. This was really our responsibility."
UC Berkeley is hoping to send out around 5,000 more acceptance letters on March 24 to incoming first-year and transfer students, out of which they expect 3,050 of those students to enroll.
Photo: Jeremy Huang