CA Supreme Court rules UC Berkeley can move forward with People's Park housing plan

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Friday, June 7, 2024
UC Berkeley can continue People's Park construction: CA Supreme Court
The California Supreme Court has ruled that UC Berkeley can move forward with its plan to build housing at People's Park.

BERKELEY, Calif. (KGO) -- The barriers around People's Park will soon come down now that the California Supreme Court ruled that UC Berkeley can build student housing there.

"I am unsurprised by it," said Enrique Marisol, a Berkeley resident, who has been fighting to save the park.

After a yearlong legal fight over the Berkeley landmark, the court ruled that a new law AB 1307, which was enacted in 2023, nullifies the claims by those suing UC Berkeley. The lawsuit claimed that student noise could be an environmental impact.

"The basis on which those who are objecting to the building of the new student housing, filed their claims with the court, was that there was going to be all of this noise that resulted from the new number of students being added into that area. That is unprecedented," said David Fraser, professor of Public Affairs and Administration at Cal State University East Bay.

A state appeals court ruled last year that the university failed to consider alternate locations and to how to deal with the potential increase in noise. But UC Berkeley appealed to the state supreme court. And then AB 1307, which passed unanimously, effectively closed the holes in CEQA, or the California Environmental Quality Act, that were used to sue the university.

"It is also frustrating that they can just change the rules halfway through and then just decide that you case no longer has merit because they have retroactively applied this new law," Marisol said.

RELATED: Protesters arrested as UC Berkeley crews close People's Park, set up shipping container perimeter

Harvey Smith is president of the People's Park Historic District Advocacy Group. He says he is disappointed by the ruling. He says the university "ran to the legislature and changed the rules." He calls AB1307 a "sweetheart backroom deal forged with the UC."

UC Berkeley says it is relieved with the decision. In a statement to ABC7 News it writes, "The campus is turning its attention to the timeline for resuming construction now that all legal challenges have been resolved by the California Supreme Court."

Professor Fraser adds, even with the new law, the court could have still ruled in favor of the university.

RELATED: Court ruling stops UC Berkeley from building student housing at People's Park

"I am also not surprised, because historically in the State of California there've been always allowances for educational institutions, albeit K-12, to be exempt categorically from most of CEQA requirements," Fraser said.

California State Senator Scott Weiner says there is a student housing crisis. And that this ruling allows UC Berkeley to move forward.

"We have passed two different laws to make clear that environmental laws should not be used, or abused, to stop on-campus student housing, which is some of the most environmentally sustainable housing," Weiner said.

The lawyer representing the People's Park advocates did not return requests for comment.

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