Governor Signs Fast-Tracked Relief for UC Berkeley Enrollment

(Photo by Smith Collection/Gado/Getty Images)

By David M. Greenwald
Executive Editor

Sacramento, CA – With the State Supreme Court unwilling to overturn a lower court ruling, the legislature, in a rare move that was speedy and unanimous, quickly provided relief to allow students admitted to UC Berkeley to enroll.  The governor immediately signed the legislation.

“A recent court order could have forced UC Berkeley to shut the door on thousands of potential college freshmen and transfer students, disproportionately impacting students from disadvantaged or underrepresented backgrounds,” the governor’s office said on Monday.

“I’m grateful to the Legislature for moving quickly on this critical issue—it sends a clear signal that California won’t let lawsuits get in the way of the education and dreams of thousands of students, our future leaders and innovators,” said Governor Newsom.

The governor signed SB 118, which will ensure “that student enrollment at a college campus is not singled out as a project under the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA), while preserving requirements that campus long-range development plans are comprehensively reviewed for environmental impacts.”

“Today, the Legislature acted unanimously and passed SB 118, upholding our longstanding priority to provide more students, not fewer, the life-changing benefit of higher education,” said Senator Nancy Skinner who represents Berkeley in the State Senate.

“Students were never intended to be considered pollution. SB 118 ensures that California environmental law does not treat student enrollment differently than the any other activity in our UC, CSU, or Community College long-range development plans.”

SB 118 won approval in the state Assembly on a 69-0 vote, and passed the state Senate on a vote of 33-0.

According to Skinner’s office, “SB 118 addresses the recent unprecedented court ruling that ordered UC Berkeley to slash enrollment this fall by more than 2,600 students.”

SB 118 eliminates the need for UC Berkeley to slash enrollment this fall, by rendering unenforceable any current court injunction that orders a freeze or a reduction of student enrollment, including the injunction affecting UC Berkeley.

Under SB 118, California’s public college and university campuses will still have to conduct a CEQA review of their long-range development plans and the impacts of a campus’ planned overall population increase, including for its faculty, administrators, students and staff. But a campus would not have to do a CEQA review solely because of a student enrollment increase.

Toni Atkins, the Senate Leader, pointed out, “SB 118 is not only an example of the Legislature acting quickly to ensure that our students’ needs were put ahead of a narrow set of interests, but also highlights Senator Skinner’s leadership.”

She noted, “Earlier this month, we were presented with the immense challenge of how to help more than 2,600 prospective UC Berkeley students secure a spot at the university, given the court-ordered enrollment freeze due to a misguided lawsuit. Today, thanks to the fierce dedication of Senator Nancy Skinner, we were able to vote on a solution.”

Senator Scott Wiener was also appreciative as he saw SB 118 as a means to prevent “abuse of the (CEQA) when it forces public schools, including UC Berkeley, to cut enrollment.

“The NIMBY lawsuit that led to an arbitrary UC Berkeley enrollment cap will make it harder for thousands of California young people to get an education and enter the middle class,” said Senator Wiener, who represents San Francisco and has been a fierce advocate for housing for students and others.  “The triage legislation we passed today will solve that immediate problem. But it’s not enough just to solve this immediate problem; we need to ask ourselves how we got here.”

The senator added, “What happened at UC Berkeley happens every day in the state of California. Not in ways that generate national headlines, but in much smaller ways that deeply harm our state.”

Senator Wiener, who has also sponsored legislation that would reform CEQA, remains critical of the seminal law.

“In many ways, CEQA is the law that swallowed California,” he said.  “In addition to CEQA being used to arbitrarily cap UC enrollment, CEQA has been used to stop or delay bike lanes. It’s been used to stop or delay trains and other public transportation. It’s been used to stop clean energy projects. It’s been used to stop apartment buildings right next to major train stations.”

The senator added, “What do all of those projects have in common? They’re all good for the environment. They all help reverse carbon emissions. And yet CEQA is regularly used to stop or delay climate-friendly projects.”

He quickly added, “CEQA is an important law. I don’t agree with the people who think it needs to be repealed. But I do agree that it needs to be changed so it actually achieves climate action rather than impeding climate action by giving anyone with enough money to hire a lawyer the power to delay or kill environmentally sustainable projects.”

But he said, “When it comes to CEQA, this UC Berkeley trainwreck isn’t a bug. It’s a feature.”

Mayor Jesse Arreguin was grateful for the state officials.

“Through this action, the State has made it abundantly clear how important the need for access to higher education is for the future of California,” Mayor Arreguin said.  “UC Berkeley is an incubator of ingenuity.  By enabling our growing, diverse population access to a world-class education, we will be in a better position to tap into the potential of the next generation to solve the issues we face today.”

UC President Michael Drake added, “Today’s action by the state Legislature affirms the University of California’s obligations under CEQA while also safeguarding the bright futures of thousands of hardworking prospective UC Berkeley students.”

“The University shares our campus neighbors’ desire to undertake growth in a way that respects the surrounding community and mitigates impacts on the environment,” Drake said. “We believe this bill provides a clearer, more transparent and more predictable process for analyzing and managing the environmental impact of campus populations under CEQA while also ensuring students are not harmed because of ongoing policy disagreements.”


About The Author

David Greenwald is the founder, editor, and executive director of the Davis Vanguard. He founded the Vanguard in 2006. David Greenwald moved to Davis in 1996 to attend Graduate School at UC Davis in Political Science. He lives in South Davis with his wife Cecilia Escamilla Greenwald and three children.

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12 thoughts on “Governor Signs Fast-Tracked Relief for UC Berkeley Enrollment”

  1. Keith Y Echols

    All I can say is that thank goodness UCD is outside of the city of Davis’ city limits.  Poor Berkeley has something in it that is growing out of it’s control.  There’s a word for that but I’d probably get raked over the coals with indignant overly sensitive indignant outrage.   Berkeley tried to control it the only way it could but failed.  The RHNA will likely force Berkeley to approve more housing to accommodate the increased student enrollment in the future.  I wonder if the city of Berkeley will find other ways to try to control the University’s growth?

    But yeah, from a legal standpoint, CEQA was meant to control things that impact the environment on an individual project level; not enforce sweeping changes for the overall community.

    1. Ron Glick

      CEQA has a cumulative impacts provision so its not restricted to looking at individual projects but can take into account how a series of proposals impact the environment such as piece by piece logging in a watershed that in totality adversely impact the environment.

      1. Keith Y Echols

        Sure it can look at how one new building’s impact cumulatively impacts with the others existing or being built.  Or in the example you gave of logging; how one logging project’s impact adds up to the existing ones.  But it’s still on a project by project basis in which the analysis starts with that project and then how it relates cumulatively to it’s surroundings.  But the Berkeley student enrollment impact went far beyond any single project’s impact cumulative or otherwise.

      1. Ron Oertel

        I understand that the city council has been taken-over by YIMBY types. And as such, doesn’t care much about the concerns of its own residents.

  2. Ron Oertel

    It’s odd how things like this are being sold as a benefit to students, since it ultimately impacts students the most when universities pursue enrollment growth without addressing its impacts.

    That’s what creates “housing shortages”.

    The only “winner” is the university, itself. And possibly some landlords.

    The whole thing shows you how “politically-connected” the UC system is. Hell, the governor was on the Board of Regents.

  3. Ron Oertel

    As usual, one has to look beyond the Vanguard to get the facts:

    The legislative fix will do two things

    First, it removes campus enrollment as a “project” in the eyes of the environmental law. The removal makes it impossible for litigants to challenge a school’s growth plans by targeting its student enrollment alone. Lawmakers and some legal experts feared this case and a previous one opened the door for community groups to sue other colleges for their increases in student attendance. Instead, the Legislature is using a new definition — campus population, rather than student enrollment — to measure a school population’s environmental impact. Campus population can include not just students but also employees.

    Next, the legislative fix prevents a court from initially ordering a campus population cap if a judge deems that a campus exceeded its campus population goals. Instead the judge would tell a public higher-education campus to find ways to remedy the impacts of the population growth, such as through increased housing. If the campus fails to certify the updated environmental impact report within 18 months of a court order, then a judge can establish a campus population cap that’s tied to the school’s most recent planning document, known as a long-range development plan.

    Looking at campus population rather than student enrollment isn’t a fix that’s necessary for the UC Berkeley saga, but it’s seen as a way to protect student enrollment in the future in the event a campus does have to lower its overall population by court order. A campus could, for example, bring back fewer workers, sparing as deep a hit to student enrollment.

    Not all lawmakers were pleased. “This bill unfortunately rewards the mistakes of the UC,” said Assemblymember Luz Rivas, a Democrat from San Fernando, who added the bill should have gone through a lengthier policy study. Still, she backed the bill to support students.

    Seems to me that the university is still quite vulnerable to court orders regarding “campus population”.

  4. Richard_McCann

    The Chronicle’s story on this:

    Thousands of UC Berkeley admissions restored under bill signed by Newsom

    And two stories on the history of the situation:

    UC Berkeley enrollment fight: Neighbors complain there’s not enough housing, then try to block it, officials say

    UC Berkeley’s housing crisis is 50 years in the making, and students say, ‘We get screwed at every turn’

    “But that point of view is increasingly rare in a city that is quickly becoming known for embracing density rather than NIMBY politics.”

    In the second story, UCB and Berkeley could easily be replaced with UCD and Davis in may places.


  5. Richard_McCann

    The Legislature has expressed its clear intent that communities hosting UCs and CSUs have an obligation to assist in educating those students in return for the benefits that state expenditures and investments bequeath on those communities. There is no longer a question on this matter.

    1. Keith Y Echols

      The Legislature has expressed its clear intent that communities hosting UCs and CSUs have an obligation to assist in educating those students in return for the benefits that state expenditures and investments bequeath on those communities. There is no longer a question on this matter.

      The CEQA ruling was about the application of CEQA.  Legislature just fast tracks student housing; just like affordable housing and multi-family housing in areas ALREADY ZONED by local communities.   Cities with Colleges in their city limits are screwed.

      As I said before, thank goodness the city of Davis doesn’t have an out of control growing university with in it and the apparent obligations that come with it.

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