UC Berkeley
peoples park housing

Court ruling stops UC Berkeley from moving forward with student housing construction

Feb. 27, 2023
California appellate court says the university did not complete a proper environmental review of the so-called People's Park project.

A California appellate court has issued a ruling that stops University of California, Berkeley, from building badly needed student housing at People’s Park.

The Los Angeles Times reports that the university intends to appeal the ruling to the state Supreme Court.

The appellate court said University of California regents does not have to abandon the People’s Park project but must return to the trial court and “fix the errors” in the environmental review.

Two nonprofits had filed a lawsuit to stop the development, saying it would rob neighbors of green space, damage the park’s historic value and bring more noise and other disruptions to the area.

UC Berkeley Chancellor Carol Christ unveiled a plan in 2018 to redesign the park to provide about 1,100 student beds, along with 125 beds for lower-income and formerly unhoused people. The Berkeley campus houses only 23% of its students, by far the lowest percentage in the 10-campus UC system. 

But the ruling by the 1st District Court of Appeal in San Francisco has halted the People’s Park project.

It ruled that the California Environmental Quality Act, known as CEQA, required developers to analyze and mitigate a project’s potential noise — in this case the noise generated by students who may drink, yell and hold “unruly parties,” as some neighbors have complained in documents submitted to the court.

UC Berkeley “failed to assess potential noise impacts from loud student parties in residential neighborhoods near the campus, a longstanding problem that the [environmental review] improperly dismissed as speculative,” the ruling said.

The appellate court also ruled that the campus failed to justify its decision not to consider alternative locations to the People’s Park project.

UC Berkeley denounced the ruling.

“The campus is dismayed by this unprecedented and dangerous decision to dramatically expand CEQA, and the campus will ask the California Supreme Court to overturn it,” the university said.

“Left in place, this decision will indefinitely delay all of UC Berkeley’s planned student housing, which is desperately needed by our students and fully supported by the City of Berkeley’s mayor and other elected representatives,” the statement said.

Harvey Smith, president of the People’s Park Historic District Advocacy Group, praised the court decision. He said his members are advocates from throughout Berkeley and beyond who want to maintain open space in the dense city and preserve a vital historic and cultural site listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

About the Author

Mike Kennedy | Senior Editor

Mike Kennedy, senior editor, has written for AS&U on a wide range of educational issues since 1999.

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