The University of California’s battle with Berkeley residents continues on several fronts – with UC winning two recent appellate court cases and the California Supreme Court agreeing to hear the biggest pending case.
On May 17, the Supreme Court granted review in the “noisy students” case, in which the First District Court of Appeal ruled that noisy students could create a significant impact on the environment. This was the controversial case in which the court released a tentative ruling in Dceember, then backed off of the decision somewhat (for example, concluding that homeless people per se are not an environmental impact) in the final ruling in February. The case emerged from a controversy over UC’s development of housing in People’s Park There is considerable concern that, if the appellate ruling is upheld, it could lead the California Environmental Quality Act down a path toward requiring socioeconomic impact analysis. (For previous CP&DR coverage of the “noisy students” case, click here.)
Meanwhile, however, two different panels of the First District Court of Appeal have ruled in favor of the university over neighbors in recent cases.
In one ruling, issued on May 5, Division Five of the First District ruled that other development associated with People’s Park could move forward because the EIR was adequate. Neighbors had argued, among other things, that the EIR for the student housing project known as Anchor House did not adequate address the impact of shade on historic structures and issues related to wildfire, which have become a popular topic in CEQA cases recently.
The court rejected all of the neighbors’ arguments and stated bluntly: “Although the litigation is not over, it has reached a stage where Anchor House should be given the all-clear signal. The lead agency approved Anchor House as a standalone project, separate from the approvals for the long range development plan and the People’s Park project.” Accordingly, the court stated, despite the fact that the larger People’s Park case is still pending in front of the Supreme Court, “there are no unresolved CEQA issues that concern Anchor House.)
On the shade question, the court acknowledged that the EIR found the 17-story building will place some historic buildings in shade for a part of each day. But, the court said, “It is not enough to identify evidence in the record that shading from the People’s Park project will have some sort of impact on the church or school. To warrant environmental review, Citizens [the plaintiff] must identify evidence supporting a fair argument that it would materially and adversely impair a specific physical characteristic of these buildings that conveys their historical significance.”
The court also rejected all the wildfire claims, saying that the project is infill development near but outside the boundaries of a wildfire hazard zone and the additional development would not severely impair evacuation in case of a wildfire.
The unpublished case is Berkeley Citizens for a Better Plan v. Regents of UC, No. A166164
In the other ruling, issued on April 27 and published on May 19, Division One of the First District ruled that the recent passage of SB 118, the law stating that UC enrollment increases do not constitute an environmental impact under CEQA, as well as the certification of a 2021 environmental impact report, both rendered moot the remaining issues that Save Berkeley’s Neighborhoods argued in the now-famous student enrollment case. The unpublished ruling came in Save Berkeley’s Neighborhoods v. University of California, No. A163810. (For previous CP&DR coverage of the case and the enrollment issue, click here.)