A court-ordered cap on UC Berkeley student admissions, which may restrict enrollment to 2020-21 levels, has sparked controversy among Berkeley city officials and community members.
The Berkeley City Council voted unanimously Friday to authorize an amicus brief in support of overturning the lower court’s Feb. 10 ruling. While some Berkeley residents support the recent court decision, others voiced concerns about the effects that the enrollment cap will have on the city.
“Part of why this ruling is so severe is because the court order to freeze was for the year when we had the lowest enrollment due to COVID,” said City Councilmember Rigel Robinson during the council meeting. “A year when so many prospective students and current students deferred enrollment or took gap years to take care of themselves during a global emergency.”
The cap will result in a reduction of enrollment by 3,050 students this upcoming fall, according to a campus press release.
Campus appealed to the Supreme Court of California on Feb. 14. In addition to Berkeley City Council voting to support campus Friday, CA Gov. Gavin Newsom filed an amicus brief Friday in support of UC Berkeley, according to the press release.
The original petitioner that led to the judge ordering a cap on student enrollment was Save Berkeley’s Neighborhoods. The organization’s mission is to “protect Berkeley’s unique quality of life and Make U.C. Berkeley a Good Neighbor,” according to its website.
“Many residents are extremely disappointed that the council did not take a stronger leadership position by opposing (campus’s) effort to continue to increase enrollment given the large number of low-income households which will be displaced by that action,” said Save Berkeley’s Neighborhoods President Phil Bokovoy. “(Campus) has refused to acknowledge in its environmental documents the damage that it has inflicted on low-income households and its role in increasing homelessness.”
Bokovoy added that the judge who ruled in favor of Save Berkeley’s Neighborhoods noted the increase in student population has also led to an increase in homelessness, noise levels and environmental impacts.
Bokovoy said he approves of the judge’s decision since he believes it will benefit students.
“The long-term consequences are that students who come to Berkeley will be able to find housing and hopefully (campus) will start to build housing that is more affordable,” Bokovoy said.
Alexander Wilfert, campus alumnus and former ASUC president, added he is “hopeful” the California Supreme Court will overturn this decision, since not doing so will reduce accessibility to higher education.
Wilfert also said he was concerned about the impact this decision will have on other universities.
“This is a bad precedent,” Wilfert said. “This can succeed in university towns in California and across the country.”
During the city council meeting Friday, Robinson noted how advocates for a cap on student enrollment have allegedly long opposed UC Berkeley building housing for students, alleging that the proponents of the lawsuit are not motivated by alleviating the housing crisis.
Robinson added that the same neighborhood advocates objected to the height of a now completed building on Telegraph Avenue, a proposed dormitory on Southside and upzoning of student neighborhoods on Southside.
Without the university, the city of Berkeley would never have been founded, according to Robinson. He said he believes that the decrease in students will be a “tragic lost opportunity” for thousands of youths.
“The campus community is a critical element of our local economy and our culture as a city,” Robinson said in an email. “We would do well to remind ourselves from time to time that the city was only founded because the campus was established.”
Neil Park McClintick, a housing organizer in the Bay Area and campus alumnus, said the enrollment cap will affect transfer students the most. He noted the decrease in enrollment will also lead to a decrease in diversity at UC Berkeley in terms of age, ethnicity and nontraditional students, such as student-parents.
Park McClintick also noted that businesses will be especially hard hit. When Park McClintick visited campus during the pandemic, he said he noticed how empty the city was and how many businesses were suffering and closing down as a result.
“Students are the lifeblood of the city,” Park McClintick said. “They create a sense of vibrancy.”