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Calif. Bill to Exempt Public Colleges From Environmental Review

February 24, 2022

A new bill introduced in the California State Senate would exempt housing developments at public universities from an environmental review process, a move that could prevent future lawsuits like the one that has forced an enrollment cap at the University of California, Berkeley.

This bill comes shortly after UC Berkeley announced that it must shrink its incoming class by 3,050 students after a community group successfully sued on California Environmental Quality Act grounds because the university did not consider the environmental impact that increasing enrollment would have on local neighborhoods. Though the university has asked California’s Supreme Court to take up the matter, pending legislation could prevent similar lawsuits as the University of California system pursues aggressive growth goals.

“CEQA is a critical law to protect the environment,” State Senator Scott Weiner, author of SB 886, tweeted Tuesday, the day the bill was introduced. “Sadly, it’s been used to stop or delay our public universities from building housing for students & faculty. Yet, this housing is inherently climate-friendly since it allows people to walk to school or have shorter commutes.”

Phil Bokovoy, president of Save Berkeley’s Neighborhoods, the group that successfully sued UC Berkeley, told the Los Angeles Times that he could see the benefit of streamlining campus housing projects. A key contention for Bokovoy has been that Berkeley builds more student housing, though he emphasized that “community groups in Berkeley have in the past been supportive of housing projects built on property that the university owns, as opposed to property that the university acquired.” He added that, for such projects, “the devil is in the details.”

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