The California Supreme Court is allowing a neighborhood group to sue UC Berkeley for allegedly failing to consider and reduce the local impacts of an enrollment increase of more than 8,000 since 2005.
Among those effects, according to the suit by Save Berkeley’s Neighborhoods, are increased use of off-campus housing by students, displacing tenants and adding to homelessness; more noise, trash and traffic; and greater burdens on Berkeley’s police, fire and ambulance services.
An Alameda County judge rejected the group’s demand for an environmental impact report last year, saying enrollment increases are not a “project” that requires review under state law to study and limit the potential harms. But the First District Court of Appeal in San Francisco ruled in June that a growing student population was part of campus growth that requires environmental review when its impacts are significant.
The ruling became final Wednesday when the state Supreme Court denied review of the university’s appeal. Justice Mariano-Florentino Cuéllar voted to hear the case, but three more votes were needed to grant review by the seven-member court. Justice Joshua Groban did not participate, for reasons not publicly disclosed.
“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,” said Phillip Bokovoy, the neighborhood group’s president. “UC Berkeley, and all other UC campuses, will now be required to study the environmental impacts and implement mitigation for enrollment increases.”
The case is not yet fully resolved, however, as a Superior Court judge must still decide whether Save Berkeley’s Neighborhoods has enough evidence to support its allegations of potential environmental harm.
UC Berkeley spokesman Dan Mogulof said the university is actually growing more slowly than Berkeley or the Bay Area and anticipates undergraduate enrollment growth of less than 1% a year for about the next 15 years. He also said a study by the school has found that its efforts to reduce auto traffic, conserve water and take other protective measures had offset any impact of increased enrollment on the local environment.
But the neighborhood group said in its lawsuit that last year’s enrollment of 43,200 was nearly 10,000 higher than the UC Board of Regents had projected in 2005. Bokovoy said UC Berkeley has failed to provide enough housing for its students, who instead have been displacing long-term city residents, adding to local homelessness.
The city of Berkeley has also sued the university over the impacts of enrollment growth.
The appeals court, in its June 26 ruling, cited the California Environmental Quality Act, signed by Gov. Ronald Reagan in 1970, which requires state and local agencies that approve development projects to report on any harm they may cause to the environment and propose measures to avoid or reduce the harm.
“The Legislature has recognized that both enrollment levels and physical development are related features of campus growth that must be mitigated,” Justice Gordon Burns said in the 3-0 ruling.
The case is Save Berkeley’s Neighborhoods vs. UC Regents, S263673.
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