.UCB News: Senate Bills 118 and Assembly Bill 168

The University of California at Berkeley may avoid an enrollment cap this fall thanks to two bills introduced Friday by state lawmakers.  

Senate Bill 118 and Assembly Bill 168, which are identical, are retroactive and, if approved, would give UC Berkeley leaders 18 months to address environmental issues related to enrollment growth before a court can issue a decision.

That means UC Berkeley will be able to issue admission letters to thousands of students who would otherwise be unable to attend in person. The university was planning to increase online enrollment and ask some students to delay admission to January 2023 in response to the cap.

The state Supreme Court last week declined to review a petition by the university following a lower court ruling that imposed the cap.

That meant 2,629 students would not be allowed to attend UC Berkeley in person in the fall. Admission letters are scheduled to go out March 24. 

But Phil Bokovoy, president of Save Berkeley’s Neighborhoods, which filed the suit over environmental issues that enrollment was allegedly causing, stated, “While politicians have been saying that CEQA views students as ‘pollutants,’ the real issue is that population growth, students or otherwise, causes environmental impacts that need to be analyzed and mitigated.”

Bokovoy’s group called the bills “poorly drafted and confusing.” They attempt to allow UC Berkeley to continue increasing enrollment well beyond current levels, even if enrollment causes problems in the community, he said.  

Those problems include displacing low-income residents, thereby reducing diversity, and among other things, noise, according to Bokovoy. He wants the Legislature to craft a more targeted bill that addresses the needs of students and communities where the University of California has caused a housing crisis.    

Budget committees for the Senate and the Assembly will each have an informational hearing on the bills on Monday. Following committee approval, each chamber will vote on its bill. 

Under the bills introduced Friday, state public universities can avoid a review under CEQA based solely on enrollment increases, according to Skinner’s office. 

The bills will take effect immediately if Gov. Gavin Newsom signs them.

— Bay City News

Skinner Praises Agreement

Bill enables Cal student enrollment to proceed 

By The Office of Nancy Skinner

State Senate Budget Committee Chair Nancy Skinner today praised the Legislature’s agreement to take action on AB 168/SB 118, a budget trailer bill that would safeguard student enrollment at UC Berkeley and remove the singling out of student enrollment as a separate project under CEQA. The agreement would also preserve the requirement that long-range development plans of California’s public higher education campuses be fully reviewed for their environmental impacts.

AB 168/SB 118 would address the recent unprecedented court ruling that ordered UC Berkeley to slash in-person enrollment this fall by more than 2,600 students. While existing law mandates public higher education campuses to conduct an environmental review under the California Environmental Quality Act on all aspects of a campus long-range development plan, including student enrollment, the court action in the UC Berkeley case ruled that student enrollment, by itself, is subject to CEQA. 

“It was never the intent of the Legislature for students to be viewed as environmental pollutants,” said Sen. Skinner, D-Berkeley. “This legislative agreement ensures that California environmental law does not treat student enrollment differently than any other component contained in our UC, CSU or community college long-range development plans.”

Most importantly, AB 168/SB 118 is designed to eliminate the need for UC Berkeley to slash enrollment this fall by rendering unenforceable any current court injunction that orders a freeze or a reduction of student enrollment, including the injunction affecting UC Berkeley.

“Jeopardizing the future of more than 2,600 students who earned a place at Cal is contrary to California’s long-standing priority to give more students, not fewer, the opportunity to benefit from our public universities and colleges,” Sen. Skinner added.

In his amicus brief to the California Supreme Court last month, urging the high court to allow UC Berkeley to move forward with its fall 2022 enrollment plans, Gov. Gavin Newsom noted that expanding college access is and has been “the keystone to California’s higher education vision.”

Sen. Nancy Skinner represents the 9th Senate District, which includes the cities of Berkeley, Oakland and Richmond, and is chair of the Senate Budget and Fiscal Review Committee and vice chair of the Legislative Women’s Caucus.

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