Local group sues UC Berkeley for alleged failure to address housing crunch

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Sophie Ho/File

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Save Berkeley’s Neighborhoods, a nonprofit education and advocacy group, filed a lawsuit Friday against UC Berkeley for allegedly failing to analyze the environmental impacts of the increase in student enrollment over the past 13 years.

The suit alleges that the uptick in student enrollment has exacerbated student homelessness, worsened traffic congestion and increased the usage of public safety services, among other charges. The suit also alleges that UC Berkeley’s lack of action violated the California Environmental Quality Act, or CEQA.

Initially approved in 2005, UC Berkeley’s 2020 Long Range Development Plan, or 2020 LRDP, accounted for an additional enrollment of 1,650 students by 2020. However, the actual increase in student enrollment for the most recent two-semester period is 8,302 —  five times more than what the plan and its accompanying environmental impact report accounted for.

“The university has a legal obligation under CEQA to analyze the impact of the increase in enrollment of students,” said Phil Bokovoy, president of Save Berkeley’s Neighborhoods. “They haven’t because they’ve been more interested in generating revenue from additional undergrads than they have in providing the services necessary for those students.”

CEQA requires that an environmental impact report be conducted to disclose the environmental effect of proposed projects. The 2020 LRDP is considered a project and therefore falls under the purview of the law, according to Thomas Lippe, the plaintiff attorney.

Bokovoy said the goal of the lawsuit is to require the university to conduct an environmental review and identify mitigation measures to address the impacts of the increased enrollment.

“We won’t know what the best outcome will be until the environmental impact report is done because we don’t have all the information that is necessary to examine what the impacts are,” Bokovoy said. “We’re all hoping the university will negotiate in good faith and will reach a quick resolution.”

UC Berkeley asserted that it is in compliance with CEQA and that the growth of student enrollment has played a minor role in contributing to housing demand in the East Bay.

“We have increased the number of students that we house as our enrollment has grown, and the campus is already engaged in a serious and very public effort to increase the percentage of students that it houses,” said campus spokesperson Dan Mogulof in an email.

A 2017 housing survey conducted by the campus found that about 10 percent of the respondents said they had experienced homelessness at some point during their time at UC Berkeley.

“That equates to about 3,000 students on campus, which is pretty alarming,” said Helen Veazey, incoming chair of the ASUC Housing Commission. “Housing students is definitely something that a lot of people in the administration of the university take for granted, but it’s so basic for student survival. … They need to reprioritize housing.”

Contact Katherine Yen at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @k_yen14.