Without New Environmental Impact Report, UC Berkeley Will Enroll Thousands Fewer Students

A high-profile example of the power of the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) might cause thousands of students to miss out on a chance to attend the University of California, Berkeley.

3 minute read

February 15, 2022, 9:00 AM PST

By James Brasuell @CasualBrasuell

Students passing through the historic Sather Gate on the University of California, Berkeley campus.

David A Litman / Shutterstock

"About 5,100 fewer high school seniors and transfer students will be offered a place at Cal for the next academic year because of an Alameda County Superior Court ruling that ordered UC Berkeley to freeze enrollment at the same level as 2020-21," reports Frances Dinkelspiel for Berkeleyside.

"The 24% drop in offer letters would bring about 6,450 new students to Cal — about 32% fewer than in a typical year," adds Dinkelspiel.

Planetizen picked up the news about the earlier enrollment freeze, also reported by Dinkenspiel for Berkleyside, in August 2021. Since then, the California First Court of Appeal turned down the university's request for a stay of the decision. Now the hopes for those 32 percent of students rests on the California Supreme Court—if the state's highest judicial body can even act in time for the March 23 date set for the university to mail its admission levels.

The controversy over the court ruling and its impact on enrollment at one of the top public universities in the world, hinges completely on planning--specifically the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA), which requires environmental reviews of projects of certain size and potential impact, and also creates an effective form of local veto.

In this case, local neighborhood group Save Berkeley’s Neighborhoods used CEQA to sue the university on the grounds that the university should have prepared an environmental impact report for a plan to increase its enrollment by 2022-23.

"UC Berkeley did not do a separate EIR on the enrollment increase but instead examined it as part of an EIR for the Upper Hearst Development project, which will add a new building for the Goldman School of Public Policy and adjacent housing for about 225 people. UC Berkeley also focused in the EIR on the impacts of the increased enrollment to the main campus rather than the city," explains Dinkenspiel.

The August enrollment cap came along with a decision by Alameda County Judge Brad Seligman to toss the EIR for the Upper Hearst project.

Phil Bokovoy, the president of Save Berkeley’s Neighborhoods, seems unmoved by the potential of thousands of students losing access to the university. Bokovoy wrote in a court document that "Cal admits so many out-of-state students that it could reduce those numbers — and hold the number of graduate students to their 2019 numbers — and still admit all the California students who apply," according to Dinkenspiel's summary of the statement.

The news about the enrollment snafu was also picked up yesterday by Teresa Watanabe for the Los Angeles Times.

The news is the latest in a string of news about development opposition in California. Earlier this month, the city of Woodside declared itself mountain lion habitat in a failed attempt to avoid recent statewide zoning laws. A ballot initiative that would overturn those same state laws is also seeking signatures to qualify for a statewide vote.  

Monday, February 14, 2022 in Berkeleyside

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