East Bay for Everyone is greatly disappointed to hear of the news of a California Court of Appeal decision denying a request to stay a 2021 Alameda County Superior Court decision that requires UC Berkeley to freeze student enrollment to the same level as it was in 2020-21 until a Supplemental EIR is complete. This decision will result in a reduction of acceptances by an estimated 5,100 offers to promising, young people who have worked hard to try to be accepted into this world-class university and this opportunity-rich, beautiful city.
This lawsuit is an outrageous example of the perverse use of the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) to block growth and change at any cost. As an organization based on housing advocacy right here in the East Bay, whose members include current, former, and potential UC Berkeley students and Berkeley residents, we call upon officials in the legislature to rectify this situation, including CEQA exemption & broad reform.
UC Berkeley is a preeminent public research university, and one of the main drivers of economic mobility here in the State of California. 26% of UC Berkeley students are the first in their family to attend college, and thousands of students from the CSU system and other state schools transfer to Berkeley every year. Investing in UC Berkeley, as well as the rest of the University of California system, ensures that the next generation of talent will be right here in our state.
Unfortunately, this decision impacting admissions has come out about a month before final UC decisions are about to be sent out. This means thousands of students applying to Berkeley this cycle, and their families, will be denied an education at UC Berkeley. They are likely frustrated with this situation, and we are too.
CEQA is a law that historically was intended to protect the environment, but more recently, it has been used to block construction of all types, including bike lanes, public transit, and affordable housing. In fact, 64% of petitioners filing CEQA lawsuits are either individuals or local “associations” that often have no prior track record of environmental advocacy. That CEQA has been used extensively outside of its intended purposes has been well-documented.
In the past, the legislature has passed CEQA exemptions for major projects. One such example is Inglewood Stadium, where the Superbowl took place just last weekend. The future of California’s youth is no less important than a football stadium. But the misuses of CEQA must be tackled more systemically than merely bandaging this particular shortcoming.
Without action, two things are going to happen. In the immediate future, UC Berkeley would experience a $57 million drop in revenue, which means less funding for student groups, research, and staff. In the long-run, if we keep an arbitrary cap on enrollment, California is going to lose out in the competition for talent. At a time when our state is already facing headwinds in growth and climate, while having the highest rate of poverty in the US, we can’t afford to blunt the future potential of our children.
The local group that filed the lawsuit complains that there isn’t sufficient housing to support increases in student populations – ironically, housing that their members have opposed building in the past. The solution isn’t to cap the investments we make in our future talent. The solution is to reform a broken set of policies that led to our housing crisis in the first place.
We call upon State Senator Nancy Skinner and Assemblymembers Buffy Wicks and Mia Bonta to support legislation that resolves the immediate issue and reforms CEQA so that future students don’t have to face their future imperiled again.