California Democrats Scramble to Change Law Limiting Student Population to Reduce Environmental Impact


Democrats in California were forced to undo a law that required U.C. Berkeley to freeze student enrollment at 2020 levels to reduce the effects a larger student body would have on the environment.

Lawmakers sought to nullify part of the California Environmental Quality Act, or CEQA, with Senate Bill 118, which exempts all state colleges and universities from enrollment caps, including what the San Francisco Chronicle called the state’s “premier public campus.” 

The Chronicle reported that the state Assembly and Senate “moved at lightning speed” to approve the bill and Democrat Gov. Gavin Newsom signed the bill “hours later.”

The Chronicle reported that lawmakers had to act quickly before Berkeley had to turn down thousands of new students:

Instead, CEQA will cover each campus’ long-range development plan — and within that a school’s total population, students and employees alike. Key to the bill is that a school will have 18 months to rework its plan if a judge finds that its growing overall population created “significant environmental impacts.” Only if the problem persisted could a judge order the school to shrink in size.

The “train wreck,” as some lawmakers called the U.C. Berkeley situation, came about after a local group called Save Berkeley’s Neighborhoods sued the university under CEQA to get the campus to stop adding new students without providing enough housing for them. A judge ordered a temporary enrollment cap for next fall while the case is being litigated, and the state Supreme Court upheld that cap on March 3.

The state Supreme Court ruling drew national attention this month when the university announced it would have to withhold about 5,000 letters of admission in order to slash next fall’s in-person enrollment by 2,629 students as required.

“On behalf of the thousands of students who will benefit from today’s vote, I want to thank California’s legislators for their quick and effective response,” U.C. Berkeley Chancellor Carol Christ said in a statement issued after the legislature’s vote.

The Chronicle reported that several students spoke up ahead of the vote, some saying, “We are not pollutants.”

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