By David M. Greenwald
I am told that NIMBY is a pejorative. It also seems like an apt description of what is going on.
Josh Gohlke’s column in the Sacramento Bee: “California’s courts let NIMBYs strangle UC Berkeley. There’s only one reasonable response.”
Gohlke argues: “The California Supreme Court refused Thursday to delay a ruling that will force UC Berkeley to cut next year’s admissions by thousands, effectively endorsing the notion that college students in the heart of a major metropolis pose a significant environmental threat under California law.
“At a time when soaring housing prices, pervasive homelessness and other repercussions of California NIMBYism have never been clearer, the decision empowers the sort of affluent property owners who brought this case to go beyond blocking housing for younger and less wealthy people to stunting their education and more.
“The neighborhood group that brought the case, Save Berkeley’s Neighborhoods, cited such alleged enrollment-related environmental catastrophes as ‘excessive noise.’ In a statement hailing the court’s ruling, the group accused the university of ‘creating a tremendous housing shortage in Berkeley,’ but it’s also opposed construction of housing that could accommodate students.”
Valera Voce in the Mountain: “3,000 Students Can’t Go To UC Berkeley Because of a NIMBY Lawsuit.”
She writes, “As a preliminary measure, we should explain what NIMBYism is. NIMBY stands for “not in my backyard” and all the individuals of that mind. NIMBYs oppose development in their cities they deem at odds with the community’s interests. Often they oppose new apartment buildings or high-density developments that would change how NIMBYs perceive the community. Darrell Owens, a housing commissioner for the city of Berkeley and pro-density advocate with East Bay for Everyone, considers NIMBYism as ‘opposed to housing in their neighborhood, oftentimes for aesthetic or economic reasons that are anti-poor and anti-middle class.’“
They write, “In a move that the Atlantic has deemed the ‘apotheosis’ of NIMBYism, a neighborhood group called Save Berkeley’s Neighborhoods filed a lawsuit challenging the university’s plan to build new housing and academic space for Berkeley faculty and graduate students.”
Reason: “Berkeley NIMBYs Are Taking Advantage of California’s Flawed Environmental Regulations.” They note, “Liberal Berkeley officials might be coming around to the view held by conservative business leaders, who have long argued that California’s Environmental Quality Act needs an overhaul.”
The aforementioned Atlantic: “NIMBYism Reaches Its Apotheosis.”
“The solution is not really under dispute either: California needs to build more housing—dorms, apartment buildings, casitas, duplexes, fourplexes, anything to bring prices down for students and everyone else. The state “has been underbuilding for something like 30 years now,” Jenny Schuetz, an economist at the Brookings Institution, told me. “The amount low-income families are spending on housing is completely unsustainable.””
The article continues: “Save Berkeley’s Neighborhoods might have prevented that from happening this year, and thousands of kids might have to attend college elsewhere as a result. But this week, State Senator Scott Wiener announced a bill to exempt student housing from CEQA. (The timing was a coincidence, he told me, because the bill has been in the works for months.) Activists are hoping to harness public outrage to target other parts of the law as well.”
“This is crystallizing just how deranged and broken the process is,” Brian Hanlon, the chief executive officer of California YIMBY told the Atlantic.
At the end of the day the NIMBY shoe fits this debate. The argument—is not here.
What is the solution for some? Put the student housing somewhere else. Add enrollment somewhere else. Where? Anywhere but here apparently.
In the past few weeks I have seen proposals from stopping enrollment growth, to increasing enrollment at Merced to building a whole new campus.
The basic problem is that right now enrollment demand is growing. That means more people want to go to college than a few years ago, which is increasing the demand for space and housing on college campuses.
Shrinking or limiting the size of colleges is not a viable solution. For one thing, as noted previously, college education is a gateway to prosperity in modern society—and as much as people long for the days when there were high paying non-college manufacturing jobs, those jobs are gone and unlikely to come back to the US.
Moreover, there are economic forces at work here—as long as there is demand for enrollment space, someone is bound to supply it. In short, the debate quickly devolves to a NIMBY argument—put the students somewhere else.
I have seen arguments for UC Merced, a relatively new campus. The demand for UC Merced is considerably lower. This year over 100,000 students applied for UC Davis. UC Merced also broke records but with about one quarter of the applicant pool.
Create new campuses? Maybe. But then you are asking a whole new community to host a 25,000 or so student campus where none existed previously. That’s a lot more disruption than adding 5000 housing units for students.
I’m not saying not to build new campuses—but just understand that the environmental impacts are not going away if that’s the case, instead they are being displaced and relocated. It is more environmentally efficient to create additional density than it is to create a whole new infrastructure.
In the end, all this comes down to one fact—certain people are trying to protect their community, their homes, their way of life.
As Atlantic reported in an interview with Phil Bokovoy the leader of Save Berkeley’s Neighborhoods, “Berkeley the school is putting Berkeley the city at risk… Students are driving up housing costs, displacing low-income families, draining city resources, and degrading the environment.”
Bokovoy’s solution: move them to Richmond or El Cerrito.
They write: “If that’s what it takes to keep Berkeley special, Bokovoy thinks it’s worthwhile. What that means in practice, though, is thousands fewer Berkeley students and tens of thousands fewer Berkeley families. Keeping Berkeley special for existing Berkeleyans is the housing crisis, because it means long commutes and unsustainable prices. Keeping Berkeley special for existing Berkeleyans is the environmental crisis, because it means more Californians living in sprawl and commuting by car. The university needs to expand as California expands, and Berkeley needs to expand too.”
In other words, Bokovoy wants to put the impact somewhere else on someone else’s back, just as those who advocate for a new campus or more students at Merced want student enrollment growth somewhere else.
We have a phrase for that—Not in My Backyard. We aren’t against housing and students—just not here. Students have to go to school somewhere. NIMBYs just don’t want it in their backyard. Who can blame them.