The California Supreme Court has ruled in favor of UC Berkeley and against a neighborhood group in a lawsuit that was testing the boundaries of the state's environmental review laws for new developments.

The ruling paves the way for a 1,200-unit housing development to rise on the People's Park site in Berkeley — which the university seized through eminent domain in the late 1960s, and where development plans have been thwarted ever since.

In issuing the ruling for the court, which was unanimous in its decision, 7-0, Chief Justice Patricia Guerrero pointed to the law passed last year by the state legislature that specifically addresses the issue raised by Make UC a Good Neighbor, the group that brought the lawsuit. That law, AB 1307, was passed with the development plans for People's Park in mind, and limits the use of CEQA, the California Environmental Quality Act, when it's applied to noise impacts from increased population — what's come to be referred to as the "people as pollution" argument.

A California appeals court had previously ruled in favor of the neighborhood group, prior to the passage of AB 1307.

"We conclude that, based on the new law, none of Good Neighbor’s claims has merit and we accordingly reverse the Court of Appeal’s judgment," Guerrero writes in the ruling. "We hold that the new law applies to both the People’s Park housing project and the development plan, and the EIR is not inadequate for having failed to study the potential noisiness of future students at UC Berkeley in connection with this project... In short, as all parties have effectively acknowledged, this lawsuit poses no obstacle to the development of the People’s Park housing project."

Make UC a Good Neighbor had further argued that the court should force the university's hand in considering alternative sites for the student housing development — a gambit that has been used previously in legal filings by NIMBYs in Berkeley — and the court rejected those arguments as well, saying the issue of alternative sites was not before the court.

"We are pleased and relieved that the Supreme Court’s decision enables the campus to resume construction at People’s Park," UC Berkeley said in a statement. "The housing components of the project are desperately needed by our students and unhoused people, and the entire community will benefit from the fact that more than 60% of the 2.8-acre site will be revitalized as open park space."

University spokesperson Kyle Gibson further suggested that the long-delayed housing development will proceed quickly to construction. Plans include two towers on the site, one six stories and one 12 stories high, containing dorm space for 1,100 students and 125 homeless individuals.

There has been ongoing tension between UC Berkeley and several groups of neighbors who have raised objections to the school's development plans, and its overall impacts on the rental housing market in the city. A previous lawsuit had raised a complaint about the university's plan to grow its student body, without building enough housing to accommodate those students — and the group Save Berkeley’s Neighborhoods won an initial court battle, but that was quickly undone in the state legislature, much like this latest fight.

In recent months, as protesters and encampments had continued to gather in People's Park, the university took erected walls made out of shipping containers around the park, effectively walling off further occupations of the site ahead of the court's ruling.

Previously: State Supreme Court Set to Hear Berkeley People's Park Development Case, Rule on 'People as Pollution'

Rendering by LMS Architects