Berkeley group can sue UC Berkeley over increased enrollment, court says

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Sunny Shen/File

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On Thursday, Save Berkeley’s Neighborhoods, a coalition of Berkeley residents, won the right to sue UC Berkeley over the effects of increased enrollment. 

Save Berkeley’s Neighborhoods alleged in a press release that UC Berkeley has not properly notified the city about enrollment increases and has exceeded the predicted number of incoming students. UC Berkeley will appeal the decision to the California Supreme Court.

“UC’s Board of Regents approved a development plan in 2005 that projected an enrollment increase of 1,650 students at Berkeley through 2020, bringing the total to 33,450,” Save Berkeley’s Neighborhoods said in the press release. “The 2005 plan also committed UC Berkeley to add 2,500 beds for students, but as of April 2018, it had added only 700 beds, making the local housing crisis worse.”

The group cited issues including increased homelessness, increases in trash collection costs, noise complaints and students being pushed farther from campus as other negative impacts of increased enrollment.

UC Berkeley denies these accusations about improper enrollment data analysis, according to campus spokesperson Dan Mogulof, who said it has continuously notified the city as enrollment increases.

“UC says it should analyze enrollment growth increases when it approves construction projects,” Mogulof said. “This court says, as no court has ever said, that UC has to do the analysis annually when it admits students.”

In 2019, UC Berkeley conducted an environmental analysis like the one that was mandated in the court decision, according to Mogulof. He said increased enrollment did not have significant environmental impacts because UC Berkeley has taken “extensive” efforts to mitigate such effects, including reducing traffic.

If the ruling stands, public schools would now have to enroll students while adhering to litigation from the California Environmental Quality Act, according to Mogulof. He added that no court in California has ever mandated that annual enrollment be subject to environmental analysis under the act, which has been in place for 50 years.

On April 28, 2018, Save Berkeley’s Neighborhoods filed the original lawsuit, which was dismissed, but the group appealed and the appellate court reversed the trial judge’s decision. UC Berkeley plans to appeal the second ruling.

“Given how strongly worded the opinion is and how clear the law is, we don’t think the Supreme Court will take their appeal,” said Phil Bokovoy, president of Save Berkeley’s Neighborhoods.

The lawsuit will return to the Superior Court if the UC system’s appeal is rejected, although this depends on campus’s next actions, according to Bokovoy.

The group hopes to negotiate with UC Berkeley and the city to find a solution to increasing enrollment while keeping residents from being negatively impacted.

Contact Naomi Birenbaum at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @NaomiBirenbaum1.