Berkeley universities

Berkeley’s NIMBYs shed light on adverse effects of CEQA – Press Telegram

SACRAMENTO — Researchers at UC Berkeley in 1995 conducted a comprehensive investigation of California’s environmental quality law and said the landmark environmental law “could be improved” by toughening its standards and expanding regulatory oversight. . The researchers were especially concerned that the CEQA was not doing enough to protect the environment.

One would expect this short-sighted conclusion from academic researchers, but the UC Berkeley administration recently received a telling lesson in how these authoritarian environmental regulations work in the real world.

Put simply, UC Berkeley may have to rescind the acceptance letters of more than 5,000 prospective students for the 2022-2023 school year and freeze enrollment after an appeals court sided with NIMBYs of Berkeley (Not In My Back Yarders) who challenged the university’s environmental impact. housing-related expansion plans.

Ironically, liberal UC officials may agree with the views of business leaders and conservative critics, who have long argued that the law – signed in 1970 by Governor Ronald Reagan – needs an overhaul. Governor Gavin Newsom could also come. No one should be shocked by the news. The CEQA has routinely derailed all types of construction projects, allowing self-centered Californians to upend the dreams of others.

“If left untouched, the court’s unprecedented decision would have a devastating impact on prospective students, college admissions, campus operations, and UC Berkeley’s ability to serve California students by meeting the goals of enrollment set by the State of California,” the university explained after announcing. an appeal to the California Supreme Court.

The university is right, of course, and other state officials have echoed similar thoughts. “The state has a deep interest in maintaining — and strengthening — its exceptional system of public higher education, with an emphasis on access and affordability, equity, and innovation,” wrote the state attorney general’s office in an amicus letter.

State Sen. Scott Wiener, the San Francisco Democrat who has done an outstanding job of standing up to the “get off my lawn” mob that has restricted housing development statewide, has introduced legislation to exempting public university housing developments from onerous CEQA requirements.

Even Wiener doesn’t quite get the point. “The CEQA is a very important environmental law which, unfortunately, is sometimes used in a way that was not intended,” he said. Well, it is indeed used to “delay or kill projects that are beneficial to the environment – like student accommodation”. But it’s not a question of “sometimes”. CEQA always lets “stakeholders” file disputes to derail any project for almost any reason.

In this case, Save Berkeley Neighborhoods sued UC in 2019, claiming the university’s plan to house additional students harmed their neighborhood. As others have noted, people who live around a large university and benefit from its amenities are now resentful of having to deal with the inconveniences of living near a large university. It’s like people who move to rural areas and then complain about the smell of cows and the rumble of tractors.

NIMBYs will be NIMBYs, but the CEQA gives them – and anyone else, for that matter – the right to block proposed projects in court and drive up costs. The group says it is “concerned about protecting the unique character and quality of life of the city of Berkeley” – the character and quality that emanates almost entirely from being a college town.

The group is appalled that many new students are – perish the thought – from out of state. The community group’s solution is to limit registrations for these foreigners. Apparently, thousands of future engineers, teachers and social workers have to give up their plans because a group of community activists are tired of seeing students living in their neighborhoods where they drive up the cost of housing.

Never mind that “local opposition has also thwarted the university’s attempts to build more student housing,” as Connor Harris wrote for the City Journal. One of the group’s leaders, Harris added, agreed that the university needed to build more student housing, but he didn’t seem to want it “to build that housing now.” He preferred that UC instead build a satellite campus five miles away in an industrial area of ​​a less affluent nearby town.

In its amicus letter to the state High Court, the group inadvertently points to another abuse of the CEQA process. He notes that AFSCME, the union that represents many of the university’s service workers, filed one of the challenges: “Union members include low-wage workers who can no longer afford housing at proximity to campus due to high rental market.” Yes, unions often file lawsuits with the CEQA to take advantage of their wage demands.

I share the widespread disgust at this lawsuit and support exempting universities from CEQA provisions, but it’s time for California leaders to stop the outrage whenever the law triggers one of their priority projects. Can’t legislators be surprised by this situation? Instead of exempting specific projects, they need to reform the law and fix the problem for everyone.

Steven Greenhut is director of the West Region of the R Street Institute and a member of the editorial board of the Southern California News Group. Email him at [email protected]