After a February appeals court ruling stopped the development of UC Berkeley’s controversial People’s Park housing complex, East Bay Assemblymember Buffy Wicks has a bill cruising through Sacramento that could reverse that decision.
If you’ve been following the now years-long drama over UC Berkeley’s attempts to build a 16-story student housing complex on what is now People's Park, you’ve probably seen headlines about the protesters blocking the bulldozers and police wishing they could teargas the protesters. But there are also byzantine legal proceedings in this story, if you’re the type who’s familiar with terms like EIR and CEQA (Environmental Impact Report and California Environmental Quality Act, respectively). And some of these CEQA challenges don’t really have anything to do with, you know, the environment.
🧵CEQA — the law that swallowed CA — is poised to get worse: An even more powerful tool to oppose housing via a “people are pollution” argument.— Senator Scott Wiener (@Scott_Wiener) December 27, 2022
A court is poised to rule noise from new residents (college students) triggers CEQA b/c students are the type of ppl who make noise.🙄 https://t.co/LQIjNIxfG3
UC Berkeley’s big legal hurdle right now is a February appeals court decision halting the project, a decision that has been characterized as part of the “people as pollution” mindset in the anti-development, NIMBY camp. Though the phrase “people as pollution” is a sound-bite from the pro-development crowd, the 47-page appeals court ruling never actually uses that expression. But the ruling does say that UC Berkeley's EIR “failed to assess potential noise impacts from loud student parties in residential neighborhoods near the campus, a long-standing problem that the EIR improperly dismissed as speculative.”
ICYMI: End of ‘people as pollution’? California bill would shield housing developers — including at UC Berkeleyhttps://t.co/rOcgXTR4gb— Nancy Skinner (@NancySkinnerCA) May 22, 2023
Undaunted, Berkeley’s state Assembly representative Buffy Wicks introduced a bill that would invalidate noise concerns as a means to halt development projects, as the Chronicle reported Friday. And on Monday that bill was approved in the state Assembly. It needed a two-thirds majority to pass, which is a high threshold, but it passed 77-0.
The bill would still need to pass the state Senate and get Governor Gavin Newsom’s signature to become law. But the Chronicle notes that Newsom’s office submitted legal filings in favor of the People’s Park development, so Newsom signing the bill seems a certainty.
“AB 1307 would reverse the ‘people as pollution’ precedent created by a recent Appellate Court decision,” Wicks’s office said when announcing the bill. “AB 1307 would reverse this precedent by declaring that noise generated by the unamplified voices of residents in a residential project cannot be considered a significant effect on the environment pursuant to the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA).”
In terms of People’s Park, the development is still halted by the courts. But Berkeleyside reported last week that the case will be heard by the California Supreme Court, so there is a chance that the 1,100-unit housing development eventually gets built at the site.
But on the broader level of CEQA appeals, the Chronicle reported in a separate piece last week that Newsom is trying to enact a plan where CEQA appeals can only last 270 days. That would surely cut down on these years-long appeals, though as the Chron explains, Newsom’s plan would only affect appeals on “construction of clean energy, water storage, transportation and infrastructure projects in California,” and “would not apply to housing projects.”
Related: Appellate Court Might Expand CEQA's Powers In Berkeley Case, and May Stymie People's Park Development Plan [SFist]
Image: LMS Architects