County judge orders campus to freeze enrollments at current level

photo of sproul after classes went back in person
Sunny Shen/Senior Staff
Students are walking to class and sitting at tables on Sproul Plaza. UC Berkeley must temporarily freeze student enrollment at the 2020-21 numbers in compliance to a court ruling filed Monday.

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In a ruling filed Monday, Alameda County Judge Brad Seligman ruled UC Berkeley must freeze student enrollment at the 2020-21 numbers until the campus has sufficiently researched the impact of enrollment growth on the local community.

Save Berkeley’s Neighborhoods, the organization that filed the lawsuit, is a group of Berkeley residents who aim to “protect Berkeley’s unique quality of life,” according to its website. Phil Bokovoy, the group’s president, said the judge’s ruling is welcome news.

“We’re extremely pleased with the ruling,” Bokovoy said. “We’ve been litigating against the(UC Berkeley) for three years on the issue of enrollment increases. It will hopefully force (campus) into legally acknowledging their obligation to create housing for students that they add onto campus.

The decision also ordered UC Berkeley to halt the Upper Hearst Project, which includes plans for new study spaces and student housing on the northeast edge of campus, according to the Berkeley Capital Strategies website.

Due to the California Environmental Quality Act, or CEQA, all state agencies are required to assess how certain projects may affect the environment, as stated on the Berkeley website. After conducting an initial study, the agency must prepare a report called the environmental impact report, or EIR.

In order for the Upper Hearst Project to resume, campus is required to revise its supplemental EIR to include how an increase in student enrollment will affect the surrounding areas, the court documents say.

“In the supplemental EIR, (UC Berkeley) made the claim that increasing enrollment by 11,000 students would have no effects on the environment and the judge rejected that,” Bokovoy alleged. “There was substantial evidence that it impacted housing, increased displacement and homelessness.”

Bokovoy added that he experienced the effect of campus’s expansion personally. Fifteen years ago, the south of campus was predominantly occupied by “lower to middle income” renters. Today, it is almost entirely inhabited by students, he said.

Regarding the case ruling, campus spokesperson Dan Mogulof stated that campus is fully expecting to proceed with the Upper Hearst Project after addressing the court’s requirements.

“We are optimistic that we can file documents with the court very soon that will satisfy the judgment with regard to future increases in enrollment,” Mogulof said in an email. “It will probably take (campus) between six and eight months to address the requirements of the judgment with regard to the Upper Hearst project.”

According to Bokovoy, the housing shortage has pushed student renters into neighborhoods that are not built to handle student living. He cited problems such as vandalism, public drunkenness and noise impacts.

Save Berkeley’s Neighborhood’s ultimate goal is for campus to remedy its housing deficit and establish legally enforceable mitigations for the neighborhoods close to it, Bokovoy added.

“Until they build an appropriate number of units or beds for the existing campus population, we would want the enrollment to be frozen,” Bokovoy said. “Then for any future enrollment increases, they have to build a bed for every student that they add.”

Contact Kelly Suth at [email protected], and follow her on Twitter at @kellyannesuth.

A previous version of this article incorrectly quoted Phil Bokovoy as saying the south of campus was predominantly occupied by lower to middle income residents. In fact, Bokovy said the south of campus was predominantly occupied by lower to middle income renters.

A previous version of this article misspelled Bokovoy.