The California Supreme Court has now set a date to hear arguments in an appeal that has been holding up development of the People's Park site in Berkeley for over a year.

It's been over a year, since February 2023, that an appeals court ruling has stymied UC Berkeley's latest effort to develop the long-fought-over People's Park site into student and supportive housing. That ruling took the side of NIMBY neighbors who have been in yearslong battle with the university to curtail the development of student housing — with much of the objection centered around fears of more loud student parties, and just more students in general.

In the ruling, the appellate judges ruled 3-0 that the university had not adequately completed its Environmental Impact Report (EIR) obligations. Namely, the judges wrote, the university had "inadequately analyzed potential alternatives to [the People's Park development] and impacts from noise and displacement."

"The EIR failed to justify the decision not to consider alternative locations to the People’s Park project," the judges wrote. "In addition, it failed to assess potential noise impacts from loud student parties in residential neighborhoods near the campus, a longstanding problem that the EIR improperly dismissed as speculative."

The judges further tried to quell criticism of the ruling, saying, "We do not take sides on policy issues. Our task is limited. We must apply the laws that the Legislature has written to the facts in the record."

Photo: PovertyScola/X

The ruling was a victory for NIMBYs statewide who have frequently used California's environmental protection statute, known as CEQA, to stymie housing development of all kinds. The notion of "people as pollution" being bad policy has caught on in the statehouse, and as the court case has dragged on, the Assembly passed a bill in May 2023 that would reverse this idea.

The bill, AB1307, went on to pass in the state Senate as well, and it establishes that "the effects of noise generated by project occupants and their guests on human beings is not a significant effect on the environment for residential projects for purposes of CEQA."

But, the objections to the EIR for the People's Park project also include concerns about displacement of Berkeley residents — due to the overall housing shortage — and a longstanding beef over UC Berkeley's student-body expansion, which was not addressed by AB1307.

The university now hopes that justices on the California Supreme Court will see things their way. As the East Bay Times reports, the court this week set a hearing date of April 3, and the case will be heard in Los Angeles.

That will be nearly a year after the state Supreme Court agreed to hear the case.

People's Park remains, since January, walled off by stacks of shipping containers, after many months of protest by students and local activists.

At a rally at the site last week, local resident Helen Finkelstein told the East Bay Times, "I’m angry – it’s all about money. The park has its problems, but it’s an integral part of the community. It’s a gathering place, and it’s a historical spot."

Pro Peoples Park marchers gather at lot nicknamed 'Peoples Park Annex' on Memorial Day, 1969. (Photo by William L.Rukeyser/Getty Images)
Tear gas clouds over Telegraph Ave. during disturbance on first day of Peoples Park conflict, 1969. (Photo by William L. Rukeyser/Getty Images)

But that view may not be shared by a majority of Berkeley residents anymore. The park had become mostly a homeless encampment in recent years, with a fairly active drug trade. And while some residents may object to the development, many others have objected to the blight that the park had come to represent.

Ironically, or not, it was a stalled university plan to build student housing on the site that led to the park's creation in 1969, which was followed by months of occupation by protesters — and a still infamous standoff with law enforcement known as Bloody Thursday that left one man dead and another blinded.

Other development plans at the park over the years were met with plenty of protest, and pushback from Berkeley residents. But in 2017, the university announced the latest plan, which includes housing for over 1,000 students and 125 formerly homeless individuals, and it was met with little objection at first.

The plan was refined over time, and in 2021, the park partially closed as construction preparations began. But, of course, the protests returned, and the court battle wended on.

The fact that the appeal is being heard in Los Angeles means there will likely be few locals attending to protest, but we'll see.

Previously: State Assembly Passes Bill To Undo ‘People As Pollution’ Ruling That Halted People's Park Development