California’s Conflicting Goals: Environmental Protection and University Enrollment

Written by Bobbie Wylie

California has long placed a high value on creating strict laws to protect the environment. Now, a possible exception may be made to one of California’s landmark environmental protection laws – the California Environmental Quality Act, also known as CEQA – due to university enrollment numbers.

A major state goal for California is to increase the number of students – particularly those from the state of California – at the state’s top public school system, the University of California. The two issues collided on Thursday when the California Supreme Court refused to strike down the decision of a lower court that ordered UC Berkeley to reduce its fall enrollment by over 3,000 students. The decision was considered a win for Save Berkeley’s Neighborhoods, a group that claimed UC Berkeley violated CEQA by failing to build enough housing for its rapidly increasing student population, straining city services, and contributing to issues like homelessness, traffic, and noise.

Governor Gavin Newsom himself urged the State Supreme Court to block the lower court’s ruling that ordered UC Berkeley’s enrollment cap. After the California State Supreme Court announced their decision, Newsom took to twitter, saying “This is against everything we stand for – new pathways to success, attracting tomorrow’s leaders, making college more affordable. UC’s incoming freshman class is the most diverse ever but now thousands of dreams will be dashed to keep a failing status quo.”

 State Senator Scott Wiener (D-San Francisco), who introduced a bill to exempt certain campus housing projects from CEQA, also voiced his opinion, stating “It’s tragic that California allows courts and environmental laws to determine how many students UC Berkeley and other public colleges can educate. This ruling directly harms thousands of young people and robs them of so many opportunities. We must never allow this to happen again. We must change the law. And we will.”

This issue is not unique to UC Berkeley and the city of Berkeley’s neighborhoods. UC San Diego, located in La Jolla, has had similar issues with over-enrollment and lack of housing for students. 

Photo Cred: David Paul Morris/Bloomberg