Opinion: How California’s Environmental Law Empowers NIMBYs

Critics of a new provision calling “social noise” an environmental impact say the law can too easily be co-opted by anti-housing groups to block new development.

2 minute read

March 27, 2023, 9:00 AM PDT

By Diana Ionescu @aworkoffiction


An opinion piece from early March by Jennifer Hernandez and Robert Apodaca in the Los Angeles Times outlines how community groups have used the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) to block new student housing at the University of California, Berkeley.

The authors argue that building more housing close to campus is in fact the more environmentally friendly option. “More students living near campus means less traffic.” But a recent court ruling halted plans for a new housing complex and forced the university to withhold admission from thousands of potential new students, citing the potential impacts of a higher population. 

Now, a new court ruling deems noise from college parties an environmental impact, giving NIMBY groups another weapon in their fight against new university housing. The authors see this as a slippery slope to other restrictions. “The concept of ‘social noise’ is perfectly designed to block housing in existing neighborhoods. If this ruling stands, other demographic and individual behaviors could become adverse ‘environmental’ impacts under CEQA.” Meanwhile, the authors point out that students who experience housing insecurity are more likely to drop out, making affordable housing a crucial part of supporting student success. 

More on the UC Berkeley story:

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