Breaking News about student housing!
On April 27, 2018, Phil Bokovoy, President of Save Berkeley’s Neighborhoods, a California nonprofit public benefit corporation “organized to provide education and advocacy to improve the quality of life, protect the environment and implement best planning practices in Berkeley,” filed a lawsuit in Alameda County Superior Court against UC President Janet Napolitano, UC Berkeley Chancellor Carol Christ, and 20 un-identified others. The lawsuit asks the court to compel the Berkeley campus to conduct a CEQA review to assess the impacts of the increase in enrollment and how those impacts might be mitigated.
First, a little history: In January 2017, the Housing Master Plan Task Force, chaired by then-to-be Chancellor Carol Christ, issued a report identifying 9 sites they felt were appropriate for new student housing. The goal was to provide university housing for 2 years of entering freshmen, 1 year for entering transfers, 1 year for graduate students, plus up to 3 years for new untenured ladder faculty. The “best candidate sites” were identified as the parking garage and tennis courts at Channing Way and Ellsworth (200-400 beds in residence halls) and the College of Natural Resources’ Oxford Tract (1,000 – 3,000 in traditional and apartment style residence halls). Some other sites on the list were: the Upper Hearst Parking Garage (75-100 market rate units plus replacement parking), the People’s Park 2.8 acre site (200-350 undergraduates with a food service facility), Albany Village (150-200 apartments) and part of the Richmond Field Station (units to be determined). That list caused a lot of controversy, particularly around the People’s Park and Oxford Tract sites. Then the controversy grew when CAL announced it would accept 1,000 new students, each year, for the next five years.
What’s CEQA? The California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) is a state law that requires an environmental impact review for some plans and some projects. CEQA has come under fire in recent years as being an impediment to building new housing. In response, some developers and/or cities label their projects as “infill” or claim that their development plans do not involve any sensitive issues or land areas in the hopes they will be allowed to skip the CEQA process altogether.
In filing the lawsuit, Mr. Bokovoy stated that Chancellor Christ did not respond substantively to their prior requests to discuss the problems that neighborhoods
were experiencing so they had little other choice except to sue. The problems mentioned are that the extra students displace low-income renters, increase homelessness, cause traffic congestion and place additional burdens on police, fire and emergency services for calls that involve trash, noise, and excessive drinking all of which have been well documented over the years.
In a highly controversial move in 2005, then-Mayor Tom Bates, (with the City Council following afterward), gave approval to Cal’s 2020 Long Range Development Plan (LRDP) without first disclosing its provisions to the public. In that Plan, Cal said it would add 1,650 students and 2,500 beds for students. However, on October 30, 2017, in response to a request from the city of Berkeley, Cal indicated there were actually 8,302 students, a five-fold increase compared to the 1,650 projected in the LRDP and the campus had built fewer than 1,000 beds.
Other problems include whether Cal has sufficient classroom, lecture hall, lab facilities, etc. to accommodate all these new students. BNC doesn’t have a clue how this lawsuit will work out, but it’s a pretty bold step!
Another Complicating Factor: Cal is taking several hundred beds off the private housing market through the use of master leases that include parts of or entire buildings. It’s unclear how the units that are included in these master leases are counted toward the different levels of income goals set by the Association of Bay Area Governments (ABAG) for our City. Since the State Legislature is moving toward setting fines for cities that don’t meet these housing goals which range from very-low to luxury, we’d like to know how the Cal student and faculty housing will be counted. Will the units reserved for students be based on their own income, or that of their parents and who will make these calculations? We don’t know, but this is important because if they aren’t counted at all because a State entity owns the lease, it could mean increasing future density in our City that is already one of the most dense cities in the State.
We’ll try and find out and let you know about what happens. In the meantime, check out the Neighborhood Forum Section in this eNews issue for some further information.
On another note involving the campus, the Landmarks Preservation Commission (LPC) voted on April 5 to landmark the Campanile Way Corridor and specifically stated that the westward view toward the Golden Gate was a significant contributing factor to the historic Campanile Way.
At the LPC hearing, speaker after speaker spoke in favor of landmarking the view. Only one speaker spoke in opposition. She identified herself as the attorney for the proposed high rise construction at 2190 Shattuck (the former JC Penny’s store on the corner of Shattuck and Allston Way). She stated that Steve Finacom, Chair of the LPC had a conflict of interest since he authored the Campanile Way Corridor application, even though he absented himself from voting on the landmark question. She also repeatedly mispronounced the word “Campanile.” Proponents of 2190 Shattuck say that views shouldn’t be considered as landmarks in any event, and that this building won’t have an effect on the view from the campus anyway. Opponents say the building will privatize and block the westerly view from the base of the Campanile which is the only place on the ground where thousands come every year that is free and open to the public 24 7, that this view is the very symbol of both the City and the Campus, and that Campanile Way with its view has been an integral part of the Master Plan for the Berkeley campus since its very beginning.
Plans for 2190 Shattuck are before the Design Review Commission and will have to come for public hearing before the Zoning Adjustments Commission. Given the controversy, it’s pretty certain it will be appealed to the City Council. BNC will have plenty more to say about it as it goes forward, so we’ll just stop commenting for the time being.
Flash: The May 2, 2018, San Francisco Chronicle reported that Chancellor Christ is planning to announce that the campus will build 700 units of student housing plus 100 more to house the homeless on People’s Park. Mayor Arreguin is said to be backing this proposal and that Council Member Worthington who represents that area isn’t opposed to it, although he is focused on larger sites for housing, such as Edwards Field and University and Oxford where more units could be built.