UC Berkeley library
The UC Berkeley library. Photo by Jami Smith for UC Berkeley

The state Legislature on Monday passed emergency legislation allowing UC Berkeley to offer places to all admitted students this fall despite a judge’s finding that higher enrollment amounted to environmental pollution.

Senate Bill 118 by Sen. Nancy Skinner, who represents Alameda County where the university is located, alters the California Environmental Quality Act to clarify that a change in enrollment at a public university cannot by itself be grounds for environmental review.

Skinner said it was never the intent of the 1970 law “for students to be viewed as environmental pollutants.” CEQA, as it is commonly known, is frequently leveraged to stop development of new housing and other projects.

Alameda Superior Court Judge Brad Seligman’s ruling in a suit brought by neighborhood residents had ordered Berkeley to reduce in-person enrollment by more than 2,600 students.

“SB 118 is not only an example of the Legislature acting quickly to ensure that our students’ needs were put ahead of a narrow set of interests, but also highlights Sen. Skinner’s leadership,” said Senate President Toni Atkins of San Diego.

She called the effort by Save Berkeley’s Neighborhoods “a misguided lawsuit” that would have forced students to “have their college dreams deferred or delayed.”

In the event a future court case finds that enrollment at a public university exceeds planned levels, the new law provides 18 months for a new environmental assessment to be prepared. During that time, enrollment cannot be restricted.

The final version of the bill passed unanimously in both chambers and was signed later Monday by Gov. Gavin Newsom.

Updated at 2:50 p.m., Tuesday, March 15, 2022

Chris Jennewein

Chris Jennewein is Editor & Publisher of Times of San Diego.