‘Save Berkeley’s Neighborhoods’ Sues UC Berkeley Over Housing Problem

Does UC Berkeley have an obligation to provide housing for its students? According to a lawsuit by ‘Save Berkeley’s Neighborhoods’, and a basic read of already-existing California code, the answer is yes.

In a story first published by The Daily Californian, the group ‘Save Berkeley’s Neighborhoods’ filed a lawsuit against the University of California at Berkeley last year. The reason for the lawsuit, the Berkeley group claims, is violations of Section 67504 of the California Education Code and Section 21080.9 of the California Public Resources Code.

Taken one-by-one, first, the Section 67504 of the California Education Code referred to in the lawsuit states the following:

(b)(1) The Legislature further finds and declares that the expansion of campus enrollment and facilities may negatively affect the surrounding environment.  Consistent with the requirements of the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA), it is the intent of the Legislature that the University of California sufficiently mitigate significant off-campus impacts related to campus growth and development.

Second, the part of Section 21080.9 of the California Public Resources Code that’s mentioned in the Save Berkeley Neighborhoods lawsuit reads in full as follows:

21080.09. (a) For purposes of this section, the following definitions apply:

(1) Public higher education has the same meaning as specified in Section 66010 of the Education Code.

(2) Long range development plan means a physical development and land use plan to meet the academic and institutional objectives for a particular campus or medical center of public higher education.

(b) The selection of a location for a particular campus and the approval of a long range development plan are subject to this division and require the preparation of an environmental impact report. Environmental effects relating to changes in enrollment levels shall be considered for each campus or medical center of public higher education in the environmental impact report prepared for the long range development plan for the campus or medical center.

(c) The approval of a project on a particular campus or medical center of public higher education is subject to this division and may be addressed, subject to the other provisions of this division, in a tiered environmental analysis based upon a long range development plan environmental impact report.

(d) Compliance with this section satisfies the obligations of public higher education pursuant to this division to consider the environmental impact of academic and enrollment plans as they affect campuses or medical centers, provided that any such plans shall become effective for a campus or medical center only after the environmental effects of those plans have been analyzed as required by this division in a long range development plan environmental impact report or tiered analysis based upon that environmental impact report for that campus or medical center, and addressed as required by this division.

Phil Bokovoy, president of Save Berkeley’s Neighborhoods told the Daily Californian that the “The university has a legal obligation under CEQA to analyze the impact of the increase in enrollment of students.” The lawsuit’s objective is to require the University Of California to conduct an environmental review and point to ways to solve the housing shortage problem.

“We won’t know what the best outcome will be until the environmental impact report is done because we don’t have all the information that is necessary to examine what the impacts are,” Bokovoy said to the Daily Cal. “We’re all hoping the university will negotiate in good faith and will reach a quick resolution.”

UC Berkeley told the Daily Californian that it was in full compliance with California Environmental Quality Act laws. “We have increased the number of students that we house as our enrollment has grown, and the campus is already engaged in a serious and very public effort to increase the percentage of students that it houses,” according to UC Berkeley spokesperson Dan Mogulof.

Does This Solve The Immediate Berkeley Housing Problem?

While it is clear there’s an issue to be made of UC Berkeley’s compliance with California code, the question is, is the lawsuit doing nothing more than arguing about long-range planning, when the real problem is the immediate one of a shortage of housing and a growing homeless problem?

In reading the lawsuit and the media coverage, it would seem that question was not addressed. The code points to the long-term resolution of a land-development problem, and not to this need of solving an immediate impact problem in Berkeley and neighboring Oakland, Emeryville, El Cerrito, Alameda, and Richmond.

And where does the City of Berkeley stand on this?

More questions than answers.

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