Update: City of Berkeley, UC Berkeley grapple over campus growth impacts as possible lawsuit looms

Upper Hearst Development. Image: American Campus Communities
Upper Hearst Development proposal. Image: Solomon Cordwell Buenz

Update, May 1, 2:40 p.m. In a statement Wednesday afternoon, Berkeley Mayor Jesse Arreguín wrote that “this lawsuit is not about the Upper Hearst Project, but about holding the University accountable.” He said council members are very much in favor of university efforts to add housing, but that “The Upper Hearst Development is a worthy project and should not be saddled by a flawed EIR or cramming the issue of greater student enrollment into the report.” See the full statement on the mayor’s website.

Update, May 1, 1 p.m. The Berkeley mayor’s brief announcement Tuesday night about a council decision to give the city attorney authority to file a lawsuit against UC Berkeley provoked statements Wednesday from the university and city staff to clarify what each side sees as the key issues at play. The original story, filed Tuesday night, appears below. This is the third update.

Berkeley city spokesman Matthai Chakko said Wednesday afternoon that the lawsuit under consideration is primarily focused on what the city describes as the “dramatic impact of exponential population growth” at UC Berkeley and the university’s failure to plan for it. Chakko cited a third-party analysis, requested by the city, that put the university’s “net fiscal impact” on the city, in 2018 alone, at more than $21 million. That relates to everything from city police, fire and public health services to wear and tear on city streets to exacerbating the housing crunch, Chakko said.

A spokesman for UC Berkeley told Berkeleyside earlier in the day (scroll down) that campus impacts have been lower than projected. He said UC Berkeley paid the city close to $1.8 million during the current fiscal year and would continue to make similar payments into the foreseeable future.


But Chakko took issue with the idea of lower-than-projected impacts. He said the university previously projected a 5% population growth rate that is now estimated to hit 29%. He said the Upper Hearst Development itself — referenced Tuesday night by the mayor in his remarks — is not the city’s main worry, but rather what appears to be an attempt by the university to hide its “massive population growth” in that project’s environmental analysis. That’s why the city believes the Upper Hearst EIR is flawed and why it’s considering filing suit, he said.

Update, May 1, 10:48 a.m. Dan Mogulof, UC Berkeley’s assistant vice chancellor of executive communications, told Berkeleyside on Wednesday morning that “the campus is prepared to successfully defend its position in court,” but hopes it will not come to that.

Berkeley’s mayor announced Tuesday night that the city is prepared to sue the regents over a proposed development on Hearst Avenue and a recent environmental report. (Scroll down for the original story.)

Mogulof said in a prepared statement Wednesday that the university “is ready to continue payments for the mitigation of its impacts at current levels pending completion of a new Long Range Development plan” (LRDP) — and has informed the city of this — even though a recent supplemental environmental impact report found that campus impacts have been lower than projected.

Mogulof told Berkeleyside in February that the university paid the city of Berkeley $1,770,698 in 2018-19, which included payments from the Chancellor’s Partnership Fund for projects deemed to improve the quality of life in Berkeley. Those payments are set to continue for at least two more years while the new LRDP is underway.

“We hope that continued dialogue will lead the City to decide that litigation is unnecessary, and not worth the extraordinary expense,” Mogulof said in Wednesday statement. He described the university’s work with the city to date as “continued, constructive collaboration.”

“Rather than relying on the zero-sum outcomes of litigation,” he said, “we see great value for our institutions and communities in continued dialogue and negotiation.”

Original story, Tuesday, April 30: The Berkeley City Council says it is prepared to sue the University of California regents over a campus housing project proposed north of UC Berkeley and a supplement to UC’s 2020 development plan, the mayor announced Tuesday evening.

Berkeley Mayor Jesse Arreguín told the public that the closed session council vote, which took place Monday, was unanimous.

Arreguín told the public, at the beginning of Tuesday evening’s regular council meeting, just before 6:50 p.m., that officials voted to authorize the city attorney to initiate litigation against the regents, who make up the 26-member governing board of the University of California.

The lawsuit would focus on the 150-unit Upper Hearst Development that the Goldman School of Public Policy is working on at Hearst and La Loma avenues, and the university’s amendment to its Supplemental Environmental Impact Report (SEIR) for its 2020 Long Range Development Plan, which is related to the Upper Hearst project.

The mayor warned the university earlier this month, in a letter, that UC Berkeley should not include a jump in student enrollment in the update to the environmental impact report for the new academic and housing complex on Hearst Avenue. The 1-acre residential and academic complex involves the demolition of the entire parking garage that’s currently at the site. The university has said it hopes to start work as soon as September.

The jump to 44,735 students on campus by 2022-23 differs significantly from the 2020 Long Range Development Plan (LRDP) the university signed off on in 2005, and to which the city of Berkeley agreed, Arreguín wrote in the letter. His position was that UC Berkeley should prepare a separate report on the enrollment increase rather than use the environmental analysis for the Upper Hearst project as a way to update the 2020 plan.

“Increase in campus headcount by 11,285 students and its impacts were not studied in the 2020 LRDP and are, therefore, not ‘consistent’ with the project,” Arreguín wrote. The 2005 report said “the student population would grow by only 1,650 students between the 2001/02 academic year and then stabilize at that number by 2010. Instead, the student population has increased by almost seven times over that studied in the 2020 (report).”

UC officials have argued that the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) requires the university to include updated enrollment figures in its examination of Upper Hearst. They also contend that the impact of increased enrollment has been less than what was expected in the 2005 LRDP and that the university has actually reduced its impact on the city in many ways, including a reduction in greenhouse gas emissions, solid waste and water use.

Dan Mogulof, a campus spokesman, told Berkeleyside by email earlier this month, that “CEQA requires that the campus compare the potential impacts of a housing project such as the Upper Hearst Project with existing environmental conditions at the time the CEQA review occurs. Those environmental conditions most certainly include the current campus headcount. It is only by comparing the project with these baseline physical conditions that the campus can determine whether an impact is significant.”

Read the stories below for more detailed information. Berkeleyside will continue to follow the story. 

Note: UC Berkeley says the housing element of the Upper Hearst project is focused on faculty. It will be made available to visiting scholars and postdoctoral students only if there is room. Berkeleyside updated this story May 14 to correct the record.