The 1st District Court of Appeal released an opinion Friday regarding Make UC A Good Neighbor’s CEQA lawsuit against the UC Board of Regents alleging an inadequate environmental impact report, or EIR, for the regents’ planned development on the site of People’s Park.
The court said it was “unpersuaded” by Make UC A Good Neighbor’s assertion that the EIR failed to consider an alternative plan that limited student enrollment, along with the claim that the report “improperly restricted” the plan’s geographic scope.
“Nor did the EIR fail to adequately assess and mitigate environmental impacts related to population growth and displacement of existing residents,” the opinion reads.
However, the opinion supports arguments made in a Jan. 12 hearing by Make UC A Good Neighbor that the EIR did not justify the decision to not consider alternative locations to People’s Park, as well that it failed to consider “potential noise impacts” from student parties, which the EIR had dismissed as “speculative.”
Notably, the opinion asserts that the court’s decision does not require the regents to abandon the People’s Park plan — rather, the regents must fix the errors in the EIR and return to trial court.
“The point of an EIR is to inform decisionmakers and the public about the environmental consequences of a project before approving it,” the opinion reads.
It also clarified that an agency can approve a project by CEQA, even if the project will cause environmental harm, if the agency discloses the harm and further findings.
Responding to the opinion, campus spokesperson Dan Mogulof said the “unprecedented and dangerous” decision, if left in place, will “infinitely delay” campus’s planned student housing developments, which he said are “fully supported” by students and the city of Berkeley’s elected officials.
“This decision bestows new privileges and power to the privileged and powerful by arming NIMBY neighbors with additional weapons to obstruct the development of all new urban housing, impeding the construction of housing not just for students but also for the unhoused and low-income families,” Mogulof said in a statement. “Our state desperately needs all of this housing. The campus remains fully committed to building the People’s Park project, that commitment is unwavering.”
Mogulof added that campus is compelled to appeal the decision as a public institution and will ask the California Supreme Court to overturn it.
Harvey Smith, People’s Park advocate, emphasized a lack of surprise at the court’s ultimate decision.
“The most important part of this for us is the alternatives that the UC regents did not adequately consider,” Smith said. “It feels quite obvious that both the university and the city want to make Southside a more dense part of Berkeley. We feel that for many reasons, historic reasons, but also the fact that that part of Berkeley will be more densely populated, it absolutely needs more open space.”
This is a developing story. Check back for updates.