California Supreme Court affirms victory for Berkeley Neighbors—Has wide-reaching impact throughout California
Sweeping legal victory gives Berkeley, other cities the right to sue UC system over impacts of increased enrollment on communities
(BERKELEY, Calif. September 10, 2020) – The California Supreme Court affirmed a Berkeley neighborhood group’s sweeping legal victory that gives them the right to sue UC Berkeley over the impacts of enrollment increases of more than 8,000 students from 2007-2017 that the University undertook with no notice to the city and neighbors.
The ruling, issued Wednesday, Sept. 9, hands a victory not just to Berkeley neighborhoods, but to all cities where the University of California system operates.
“The Supreme Court has vindicated our efforts to hold UC Berkeley accountable for the severe impacts on our community from its massive enrollment increases which they made without public notice or comments. UC Berkeley, and all other UC campuses, will now be required to study the environmental impacts and implement mitigation for enrollment increases,” said Phil Bokovoy, President of Save Berkeley’s Neighborhoods.
Major impacts of the extra students include displacement of low-income renters, increased homelessness, additional burden on police, fire and emergency services, and growth in trash and noise throughout neighborhoods surrounding campus, Bokovoy said.
Save Berkeley’s Neighborhoods won an appeals court ruling June 25 and UC Berkeley immediately filed a petition in the Supreme Court to overturn the case, and also filed a request that the opinion be de-published, making it applicable only in Berkeley. However, yesterday, Sept. 9, the Supreme Court rejected both the petition and the de-publication request, which means that other UC cities will benefit and that UC will be required to implement the decision in all cities where it has campuses.
UC Berkeley contended that it only has a legal obligation to evaluate and mitigate the impacts of enrollment increases on surrounding communities when it engages in physical construction of new buildings. The First District Court of Appeal court rejected this argument and the California Supreme Court affirmed the reasoning.
“The Legislature has recognized that both enrollment levels and physical development are related features of campus growth that must be mitigated” under environmental law, Justice Gordon Burns said in the 3-0 ruling. In addition, Justice Burns pointed out that environmental law doesn’t limit enrollment, but simply requires that UC Berkeley “mitigate the impacts of (its) growth and development.”
“It’s unfortunate that Chancellor Carol Christ has wasted hundreds of thousands of dollars in legal costs to fight against the efforts of citizens to ensure UC Berkeley complies with the environmental laws. This is money that could have been used to educate and house our young people. The Regents, the Legislature and alumni need to hold Carol Christ and her administration accountable,” Bokovoy added.
UC’s Board of Regents approved a development plan in 2005 that projected an enrollment increase of 1,650 students at Berkeley through 2020, bringing the total to 33,450. But UC Berkeley approved enrollment increases in every two-semester period since 2007, without public notice or environmental review, adding 8,300 students by April 2018, a five-fold increase over the 2005 projection. Last year’s enrollment was over 43,000, an increase of nearly 12,000 above 2005 enrollment.