State Bill Seeks CEQA Exemption for California Universities

A bill introduced in the California legislature would allow public universities to bypass environmental review regulations for student housing projects.

2 minute read

February 27, 2022, 9:00 AM PST

By Diana Ionescu @aworkoffiction

Berkeley Hills Bay Area

eakkarat rangram / Shutterstock

After an outcry from prospective students and advocates over a proposed cap to new enrollment, California state senator Scott Wiener has introduced a bill that would exempt housing projects built by public universities from environmental review.

As Colleen Shalby reports in the Los Angeles Times, "Wiener’s bill would exempt University of California, California State University and California Community Colleges from the state’s premier environmental law, the California Environmental Quality Act, when pursuing housing projects. Campuses must, however, pay prevailing wages and employ a skilled and trained workforce. Housing can’t be built on farmland, wetlands or a high fire hazard severity zone."

A judge ordered the university to cap its enrollment for the upcoming school year after a neighborhood group sued on the grounds that the university had not conducted a proper environmental review for a larger student body, which may affect thousands of students already accepted to the school.

While the bill was written before the recent U.C. Berkeley debacle, Shalby notes, it would potentially ease the permitting process for future university housing developments. Sen. Wiener spoke to the unfortunate tendency of the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) to delay or stop housing projects. "Student housing projects eliminate pollution by offering students easier access to school, allowing them to walk or bike to campus instead of commuting by vehicle, he said."

With the housing crisis hitting low-income students especially hard, Wiener says access to secure, affordable housing is key to providing them with the opportunity to succeed. "According to a 2021 report by the Legislative Analyst’s Office, 16% of UC students and 10% of Cal State students are currently experiencing homelessness, which includes transitional housing or hotels. And a 2019 survey of 40,000 California community college students found that 19% were homeless in the prior year and 60% had experienced housing insecurity."

Tuesday, February 22, 2022 in Los Angeles Times

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