The rabble-rousers and CEQA appellants have won another round in their attempts to thwart an 1,100-unit housing development at the site of Berkeley’s People’s Park, as the First District Appellate Court has hit the brakes on the project again.
The battle to build an 1,100-unit student housing project at Berkeley's People’s Park, or to prevent said project from being built, has bounced between raucous protests in the park and courtroom battles outside the park for several years now. The latest attempt to block the UC Berkeley's $312 million project has been in the courtroom, as two nonprofits with the names People’s Park Historic District Advocacy Group and Make UC a Good Neighbor filed a California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) appeal about potential noise, which advocates for the housing project gave derided as a "students are pollution" argument.
An appeals court has blocked a $312 million housing project at People’s Park in Berkeley. The court ruled the project fails to address environmental concerns. https://t.co/9vEQrAfaNq— KTVU (@KTVU) February 28, 2023
But KTVU reports that the First District Appellate Court sided with the opponents, saying UC Berkeley must conduct another environmental review. Per the LA Times, the court ruled that UC Berkeley “failed to assess potential noise impacts from loud student parties in residential neighborhoods near the campus, a longstanding problem that the [environmental review] improperly dismissed as speculative.”
A few wealthy Berkeley homeowners should not be able to block desperately needed student housing for years and even decades.— Office of the Governor of California (@CAgovernor) February 25, 2023
CEQA needs to change and we are committed to working with the legislature so California can build more housing. pic.twitter.com/3NC0SsLnMT
Gavin Newsom has chimed in, not at all happy with the court’s decision. Yes, let’s get it out of the way that it's ridiculous for Gavin Newsom to use the term “wealthy” as a pejorative — the man has an estimated $20 million net worth, and it's typical YIMBY bullshit for affluent homeowners to use the terms “wealthy” or “housing-secure” as insults, when they are far more so themselves.
But Newsom absolutely has a point that CEQA appeal like this one do ultimately make housing more expensive, and UC Berkeley certainly does need the housing. As the LA Times points out, “The Berkeley campus houses only 23% of its students, by far the lowest percentage in the 10-campus UC system.”
BREAKING: An opinion was just filed for the lawsuit over construction at People's Park. TLDR: it's being sent back to the lower court to amend the environmental impact review. Story to come in @dailycal pic.twitter.com/TTLs4tyEff— Riley Cooke (@rrileycooke) February 25, 2023
This ruling does not kill the project. “Our decision does not require the [UC] Regents to abandon the People's Park project,” the court wrote in its ruling. “However, they must return to the trial court and fix the errors of the EIR (environmental impact review).”
UC Berkeley campus, with People's Park highlighted in red.— m (@mayavada) February 26, 2023
Most people don't know how huge the campus is, because most of it is either off limits to the public or undeveloped. The part most people know is less than 1/4 of it. pic.twitter.com/SZMajmh63L
It’s true that UC Berkeley has a lot of land, and theoretically could build this project elsewhere. But it’s Berkeley, moving the project elsewhere would probably just bring a different set of appeals from a different set of NIMBY groups. Suggestions activists have made essentially amount to "How about El Cerrito or Richmond?"
And it’s probably no coincidence that Berkeley chose People’s Park as the site of this project, an area that has been something of magnet for encampments and violent incidents. (UC Berkeley is also planning to build shelter for 100 unhoused people as part of the project). The school vows to appeal the decision to the state Supreme Court, which may take longer than just redoing the environmental impact report.
But the school feels strongly enough that this ruling could be a precedent for blocking student housing in other communities statewide, saying in a statement to KTVU, "The campus is dismayed by this unprecedented and dangerous decision to dramatically expand CEQA, and the campus will ask the California Supreme Court to overturn it."
Image: @marindatanow via Twitter