That’s because the law — the California Environmental Quality Act, better known as CEQA — is getting in the way of another one of the state’s goals: Increasing the number of students — especially those from the Golden State — at its premier public university system, the University of California.
The issue came to a head Thursday, when the California Supreme Court in a 4-2 decision refused to strike down a lower court order directing UC Berkeley to slash its fall enrollment by as many as 3,050 students, CalMatters’ Mikhail Zinshteyn reports. The decision was a win for Save Berkeley’s Neighborhoods, which said UC Berkeley violated CEQA by failing to build enough housing for its growing student population — straining city services and worsening homelessness, traffic and noise.
- The legal battle, however, is far from over — and UC Berkeley said it plans to enroll many of those 3,050 students through a combination of online classes and deferred enrollment in the spring.
Gov. Gavin Newsom, who had personally urged the California Supreme Court to block UC Berkeley’s enrollment cap, slammed the decision on Twitter.
- Newsom: “This is against everything we stand for — new pathways to success, attracting tomorrow’s leaders, making college more affordable. UC’s incoming freshman class is the most diverse ever but now thousands of dreams will be dashed to keep a failing status quo.”
State Sen. Scott Wiener, a San Francisco Democrat who recently introduced a bill to exempt certain campus housing projects from CEQA, had similarly choice words.
- Wiener: “It’s tragic that California allows courts and environmental laws to determine how many students UC Berkeley and other public colleges can educate. This ruling directly harms thousands of young people and robs them of so many opportunities. We must never allow this to happen again. We must change the law. And we will.”
Other Democratic lawmakers showed similar signs of urgency: “We’re on the case and aware of the deadlines,” Assemblymember Kevin McCarty of Sacramento told Mikhail. Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon of Lakewood said he had conferred with UC President Michael Drake and “we will work together to help students.”
CEQA, however, has long been a bogeyman for Republicans, with GOP candidates in last year’s gubernatorial recall election blaming the environmental law for California’s housing crisis.
- Indeed, on Monday, the conservative Pacific Research Institute published a report accusing CEQA of hindering housing, school, infrastructure and climate projects.
- Chris Carr, head of Paul Hastings LLP’s Environment and Energy Practice Group and a report co-author: “As a Cal graduate, it is unconscionable that a law to protect California’s environment could deny thousands of students the opportunity for a UC education.”