City hits UC Berkeley with lawsuit over housing development

American Campus Communities/UC Berkeley/Courtesy

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The city of Berkeley has filed a lawsuit against UC Berkeley regarding its plan to develop a housing structure at 2698 Hearst Ave. — the second of two lawsuits the project has faced.

The development itself is not the main issue, according to city officials. Rather, the point of contention is the final supplemental environmental impact report, or SEIR, a document that estimates the environmental impacts of a growing student body on city infrastructure. The city has taken issue with the details of the report, which city spokesperson Matthai Chakko called “shady.” As a result, the university is facing lawsuits from the city of Berkeley and a neighborhood group called Save Berkeley’s Neighborhoods taking issue with the campus’s projections of the environmental impact of increased enrollment.

The city is filing suit on the grounds that the final SEIR undermines the impact of the growing student body on city structures and services, according to Chakko. District 7 Berkeley City Councilmember Rigel Robinson said in an email that the city takes issue not with the structure itself, but rather with what the city considers appropriate compensation.

“I am enthusiastically supportive of the Upper Hearst project — it is an important part of the campus’ efforts to address the housing crisis,” Robinson said in an email. “(However,) enrolling more students also means we need to make a greater investment in public infrastructure, emergency response services, transportation, all the services that students need from their city.”

The main issue, as voiced by both the city and the campus, is the level of compensation expected as a result of student population growth. With enrollment projected to raise 34 percent from 2005 to 2023 at the campus — constituting an almost fivefold increase from the level of growth outlined in the campus’s 2020 Long Range Development Plan, according to a press release from the city — the city worries that supporting a growing student population will be costly.

UC Berkeley pays $1.8 million annually to the city of Berkeley for the impact students have. Now, with increased enrollment at the campus, the city believes this level of compensation is inadequate. Instead, the city is requesting $23 million per year, according to campus spokesperson Dan Mogulof in an email, after it conducted a study examining the fiscal impacts of the university on the city.

However, according to Mogulof, the campus disagrees with these figures and says the current level of compensation is adequate.

“Objective data regarding current environmental impacts show that the City is already adequately compensated,” Mogulof said in an email.

Mogulof expressed that the campus is prepared to increase its payments by 30 percent, matching student population growth. The campus’s position is that the environmental impacts of the student body decreased because of sustainability efforts, which Moguluf said is reflected in the final SEIR.

Both sides agree that student housing is needed urgently, but Chakko expressed concerns that the campus’s lack of planning for its own population growth undercuts students who are housing insecure and would exacerbate homelessness.

According to Chakko, the university has “greatly undermined the stability of (its) own student population” with its plan.

Contact Sasha Langholz at [email protected].