Bill reversing UC Berkeley enrollment freeze signed into law

Photo of UC Berkeley campus
Kyle Garcia Takata/Staff
Gov. Gavin Newsom signed SB 118, which, effective immediately, will reverse the effects of the lawsuit that froze enrollment at 2020-21 levels.

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Update 3/18/22: This article and photo caption have been updated to reflect the passage of the SB 118 into law.

California Gov. Gavin Newsom signed SB 118, the Senate version of a bill that increases fall 2022 enrollment at UC Berkeley and reverses the effects of the lawsuit that froze enrollment at 2020-21 levels, after it passed unanimously in the state Assembly and Senate.

The bill removes student population as a trigger for a California Environmental Quality Act, or CEQA, review and would grant California public higher education systems 18 months to mitigate any environmental impacts before enrollment could be capped. Since the bill applies retroactively, it allows UC Berkeley to return to its original admissions and enrollment plan while it addresses the environmental impacts of an increasing student population.

“I want to thank California’s legislators for their quick and effective response,” said UC Berkeley Chancellor Carol Christ in an email. “We are, and will remain, committed to continuing our efforts to address a student housing crisis.”

According to campus spokesperson Dan Mogulof, previously announced mitigation plans will no longer be necessary. He added campus will extend admissions offers to more than 15,000 freshman in late March and more than 4,500 transfer students in April. The 400 graduate student enrollment slots previously cut will also be reinstated.

Christ added that campus is currently constructing new student housing at below-market prices and looks forward to collaborating with “partners in Sacramento” to continue to provide California students with an “exceptional” education.

UC President Michael Drake also praised the legislation and thanked Senate President Pro Tem Toni Atkins, Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon and Assembly Committee on Budget chairs Sen. Nancy Skinner and Assemblymember Phil Ting for their leadership in moving the legislation forward.

“The University shares our campus neighbors’ desire to undertake growth in a way that respects the surrounding community and mitigates impacts on the environment,” Drake said in a press release. “This bill provides a clearer, more transparent and more predictable process for analyzing and managing the environmental impact of campus populations under CEQA while also ensuring students are not harmed because of ongoing policy disagreements.”

Save Berkeley’s Neighborhoods, or SBN, President Phil Bokovoy said the bill would give UC Berkeley a “unique free pass” to avoid analyzing the impacts of its enrollment decisions and will make the housing crisis worse. He added SBN anticipates the bill will likely result in further litigation.

The bill does not exempt campuses from CEQA reviews, however, according to Ting. He added the main point of the bill is to give campuses an opportunity to remedy the situation before a “draconian verdict” could be enforced.

“It was never the intent of the Legislature for students to be viewed as environmental pollutants,” Skinner said in a press release. “Jeopardizing the future of more than 2,600 students who earned a place at Cal is contrary to California’s longstanding priority to give more students, not fewer, the opportunity to benefit from our public universities and colleges.”

Additionally, since SB 118 removes student enrollment from CEQA consideration, more emphasis will be placed on total campus population, including faculty and staff. California legislative analyst Jennifer Pacella noted that no university campuses exceed the total campus population estimate in their long-range development plans, though UC Berkeley, UCLA and UC Santa Barbara have slightly more than their student enrollment targets.

Skinner noted SB 118 takes effect immediately and eliminates the need for campus to cut fall enrollment by rendering the court order unenforceable.

“We are here because we know as a state, there is a very large demand for our public higher education system,” Ting said in the Assembly Committee on Budget hearing. “We need all the different universities… in our local areas to continue to grow so we can continue to offer access to this extraordinary system the state has invested in.”

Maria Young is the university news editor. Contact her at [email protected], and follow her on Twitter at @maria_myoung.