The California State Legislature introduced a bill Friday that would nullify the decision requiring UC Berkeley to reduce in-person enrollment for the fall 2022 semester.
If passed by the California Assembly and Senate, the bill will remove student enrollment as a project under the California Environmental Quality Act, or CEQA. The bill, AB 168/SB 118, would also allow campus officials 18 months to address environmental concerns raised by CEQA before decisions impacting enrollment are made.
Because the legislation is a trailer bill, it will take immediate effect if passed and signed by California Gov. Gavin Newsom, allowing campus to release admissions decisions by March 24, according to Assembly Budget Committee Chair Phil Ting, D-San Francisco.
“We appreciate the efforts of state leaders to seek a legislative solution that affirms the university’s obligations under CEQA while ensuring that current and prospective students aren’t harmed because of uncertainty around current policy,” said campus spokesperson Janet Gilmore in an email.
However, not all Berkeley residents are supportive of the bill. Phil Bokovoy, Save Berkeley’s Neighborhoods president, noted UC Berkeley’s enrollment has increased 50% since the early 2000s, creating a housing crisis that prevents many students from graduating in four years.
Many buildings near campus are more likely to be rented to students who will move out in one to three years. Bokovoy noted this allows landlords and leasing companies to raise their rent between tenants rather than accommodate long-term tenants seeking rent-controlled apartments. This makes it extremely difficult for faculty, staff and graduate students to find affordable housing, according to Bokovoy.
“The bill attempts to allow UC to continue to increase enrollment far beyond current levels, even if that enrollment has severe impacts on the local community,” Bokovoy said in a press release. “No community wants to be the next Santa Barbara, with hundreds of students living in cars and motel rooms.”
AB 168/SB 118 was presented to the State Assembly and Senate budget committees, both of which have hearings scheduled for Monday. If both committees approve the bill, it will go to the floor for consideration.
ASUC Academic Affairs Vice President James Weichert noted that if the bill does not pass, 1,000 members of the class of 2026 will begin their undergraduate education online, something that is “absolutely” against campus’s mission.
While the bill would allow campus to proceed with its original enrollment plans, environmental review under CEQA remains necessary. Weichert noted the legislation requires campus to provide an updated report in 18 months, ensuring it is taking the necessary steps to monitor its environmental impact.
“It’s not letting (UC) Berkeley off the hook,” Weichert said. “The clock is ticking and we’re putting pressure on to ensure campus is doing this in a sustainable way.”
Berkeley Mayor Jesse Arreguín noted the parameters of AB168/SB 118 allow time for additional environmental review without restricting access to a “world-class education.”
The university received record applications from an increasingly diverse class and the state must ensure that this access remains available to students while mitigating the environmental impacts of an increasing student population, added City Councilmember Rigel Robinson.
“This is a win-win, as it gives cities a pathway to mitigate the impacts of growth without punishing the next generation of students,” Arreguín said in an email. “I look forward to its passage and welcoming next year’s cohort of students to our amazing city.”