California Senator Scott Wiener introduced legislation on Tuesday that would exempt the state’s public colleges and universities from an environmental review process that often slows construction in the state, as the University of California fights a decision that would force its Berkeley campus to limit enrollment.
The legislation would exempt student and faculty housing projects on campus from the UC, California State University and California Community College systems from the California Environmental Quality Act.
The 1970 law requires state and local agencies to assess and disclose the significant environmental effects of projects and find ways to reduce those effects. It aims to protect the environment, but critics say it is often used to delay projects and increase construction costs, even for environmentally beneficial projects.
Wiener said the state needs to make it easier to build housing for students and faculty in the face of legal challenges from neighbors who don’t want new housing in their neighborhoods. California’s public colleges are the engine of the state’s economy and provide upward mobility for young people, the Democratic senator from San Francisco said.
“We risk losing that if our students can’t afford college because they can’t afford housing,” he told a press conference at the University. San Francisco State University surrounded by two dozen student rights advocates.
Even if approved by the state legislature, the legislation would not come in time to resolve the enrollment situation at UC Berkeley, which is being sued by a group called Save Berkeley’s Neighborhoods for violating the law’s regulations. California on environmental quality and failing to take into account the effect of increased student enrollment on housing, homelessness, traffic and noise.
In August, an Alameda County Superior Court sided with Berkeley residents, suspending a housing and classroom construction project and ordering the campus to limit enrollment to its 2020-2021 level d over 42,000 students.
The school has sent letters to applicants saying it should cut undergraduate enrollment by at least 3,000 students, causing panic among prospective students and their families.
An appeals court earlier this month denied UC’s request to lift the enrollment freeze while the case continues.
Governor Gavin Newsom last week filed a friend of the court brief asking the California Supreme Court to freeze the enrollment cap, saying in a statement that a lawsuit should not “impede education and dreams of thousands of students who are our future leaders and innovators.