Bill Would Preclude California Universities and College Housing Construction from CEQA

By Alice Sun
Alice Sun
Alice Sun
February 23, 2022Updated: February 24, 2022

While the ruling to freeze enrollment at the University of California–Berkeley is under appeal, a bill was introduced on Feb. 22 that would make California public universities’ housing developments exempt from environmental review.

Senate Bill 886, introduced by Sen. Scott Wiener (D-San Francisco) would make University of California, California State University, and California Community College housing development exempt from the California Environmental Quality Act—known as CEQA—an environmental review process that spells out the potential adverse impacts of a proposed development.

“Housing is essential to make these universities work for everyone,” Wiener wrote Feb. 22 on Twitter. “Currently, an obscene [percentage] of students are homeless or housing unstable – 10% of CSU students, 16% of UC students & 19% of community college students. This undermines their education.”

California has long led the way on the environmental review of projects. CEQA—which measures environmental impacts such as increased traffic, noise, or pollution, to name a few, that would occur if a project is created—was passed into law in 1970.

Weiner’s bill comes after a Berkeley neighborhood group sued the university over its plans to expand. The group claims that the university failed to comply with CEQA and hadn’t provided enough information on how the housing projects would affect the community, including traffic, noise, and other environmental consequences.

An Alameda Superior Court Judge ruled on Aug. 24, 2021, in the residents’ favor and ordered the university to cap its enrollment, including the reduction of over 3,000 new students for the upcoming 2022–23 school year.

California Gov. Gavin Newsom filed an amicus brief on Feb. 18 urging the California Supreme Court to stay the previous judge’s order while the case is being appealed.

While many have championed CEQA for protecting the environment, others said it’s a tool that’s abused to either slow development or stop it altogether.

“CEQA is a critical law to protect the environment,” Wiener posted on Twitter. “Sadly, it’s been used to stop or delay our public universities from building housing for students [and] faculty.”

Wiener also suggested that building more university housing is “climate-friendly,” since it allows students and faculty to live within a walkable distance from school and not need to drive.