UC Berkeley plans to become bigger, greener and more pedestrian friendly

The university’s new long-range plan includes building 12,000 housing units for a projected larger population.

UC Berkeley with Wheeler Hall and the Campanile.
The Cal campus population, including students, faculty and staff will grow from 55,130 people to 67,200 in the next 15 to 16 years, about a 22% increase, according to the university’s new long-range plan. Photo: UC Berkeley

UC Berkeley released a draft of its long-range development plan this week, a blueprint for how the campus will grow and change from 2021 through the academic year 2036-37.

The plan projects that the campus population, including students, faculty and staff will grow from 55,130 people to 67,200 in the next 15 to 16 years, about a 22% increase. The campus hopes to add about 2.55 million gross square feet to its existing 11.8 million square feet footprint, add 11,730 student beds around Berkeley, and add another 1,240 parking spaces, mostly around the perimeter of the campus, according to the plan.

The plan also calls for an increased emphasis on turning the main campus into a place that is mostly car-free and reoriented toward pedestrians and cyclists.

Map of the property UC Berkeley owns
Map shows the property UC Berkeley owns. Image: UC Berkeley

The LRDP sets out multiple priorities for the 1,095-acre campus, which extends east to Grizzly Peak Boulevard and south to Oakland and parts of unincorporated Contra Costa County. It also includes the Clark Kerr campus and about 70 acres of land in the city of Berkeley.


The priorities include addressing Cal’s academic and research space needs; addressing the shortage of student and faculty housing; expanding the amount of extracurricular space for students; acknowledging the effects of climate change and creating a more sustainable and resilient campus in response; prioritizing diversity and inclusion; and creating a transportation system that reduces greenhouse gases.

While the long-range plan is a blueprint and suggests where new buildings could be located, it does not give a go-ahead to any specific project. The university will release an accompanying environmental impact report that will go into significant detail about the environmental impacts of Cal’s long-range plans, according to Kyle Gibson, the director of communications for UC Berkeley’s Capital Strategies. The draft EIR will be released on March 8 and the public will have 45 days to comment on that. Specific future projects will have to go through a CEQA review.

In the report, university officials highlight that the LRDP was put together with significant community input from both people involved with the university and the city of Berkeley. The university started to update the plan in April 2019 and held more than 200 meetings/events since then, according to the university.

“The 2021 LRDP represents the most comprehensive, public-facing campus planning effort in UC Berkeley’s history,” Marc Fisher, administrative vice-chancellor and Wendy Hillis, assistant vice chancellor and campus architect, wrote in a letter accompanying the report’s release. “The plan embodies thousands of hours of participation by faculty, students, staff, and the community.”

But Berkeley officials, and some community members and neighborhood groups, have complained that UC Berkeley should not have proceeded with such an ambitious project in the middle of a pandemic that has limited public gatherings. UC Berkeley officials declined to slow down the process. The UC Board of Regents requires each campus to update its long-range plans regularly.

City and Cal still fighting about last long-range plan

In addition, the city of Berkeley and UC Berkeley are embroiled in a court battle over Cal’s last long-range plan, which was released in 2005. That plan called for Cal to increase its student body to 33,450 students by 2020. But after the plan was in place, the UC Board of Regents ordered Cal to significantly increase its student body to 44,735 students by 2022-23, a 37.4% increase. UC Berkeley had no choice but to comply with the Regents’ order.

To update the student numbers, UC Berkeley filed a supplemental EIR for a project it was planning for the Upper Hearst portion of campus. That plan proposed a new academic building for the Goldman School of Public Policy and a new housing complex with 150 units for professors and graduate students.

Berkeley told UC Berkeley that it should have done a separate environmental review of the projected increase in enrollment rather than folding it into the SEIR for the housing project. In June 2019, the city of Berkeley filed a lawsuit against Cal contending that UC Berkeley did not adequately analyze the impacts of the student population increase on city services.

The city is also pushing for UC Berkeley to pay more for its annual use of the city’s fire protection, sewer and other services. Cal pays Berkeley around $1.8 million annually. Berkeley contends the university costs it about $21 million a year. UC Berkeley has said the city has not yet proved the university consumes that much in city services. In addition, conservation methods put in place have led to a 21% decrease in campus water use from 2004 to 2016, a 33% drop in the amount of solid waste created, and a 21% reduction in wastewater discharge. Those drops need to be taken into consideration, according to UC Berkeley officials.

“We believe that the (increase of) 11,000-plus students on the Berkeley campus has a real impact on the city of Berkeley and the campus must address that,” said Mayor Jesse Arrreguín, who received the LRDP on Tuesday and intends to read it this weekend. The City Council is particularly concerned that so many extra people streaming in and out of campus (when there is not a pandemic going on) will have a negative impact on the environment. “I want to see the university have a bold plan … to reduce emissions,” he said.

The letter Fisher and Hillis sent out introducing the draft 2021 LRDP tries to minimize the impacts of UC Berkeley’s growth by focusing only on the projected increase of the undergraduate student body. It fails to mention other areas of growth, including that of graduate students, faculty and staff.

“Over the next fifteen years, the campus expects the undergraduate student population to grow annually by only 1%, or less, a rate that is less than projected for the population of the surrounding region,” the letter reads.

The number of undergraduates will go from 30,000 to 35,000 by 2036. That’s about a 17% increase over 16 years. But the total growth of all the populations is about 22%.

aerial view of Sather Tower and Campanile Esplanade at UC Berkeley
UC Berkeley is not interested in becoming a “growth campus,” according to a spokesman, because it is already so physically constrained. Photo: UC Berkeley

UC Berkeley is not a “growth campus”

Dan Mogulof, an assistant vice chancellor of executive communications, said UC Berkeley is not interested in becoming a “growth campus,” because it is already so physically constrained. “We are a land-poor campus,” he said. In addition, the amount of funding from the state does not cover the cost of educating a student and the campus is already in a “historic budget crisis.”

The UC Regents have ordered growth for other campuses in the system but not at Berkeley.

“As the LRDP draft shows, we have heard and listened to the community,” said Mogulof. “We want to assure them that our every expectation in our plans are based on our belief we will be a low-growth campus… Our relative footprint will decrease. Our relative impact on our neighbors will decrease and our ability to serve our campus community will increase.”

The report focuses heavily on what is called the “Campus Park,” or the main campus, and  calls for the modernization of buildings for “new pedagogies, technologies, seismic safety, and interdisciplinary connections.” Since there are few open areas for development, the report suggests that to erect new structures the administration should consider demolishing buildings that do not “meet current or future program needs, and that have significant deferred maintenance needs or that require seismic remediation.”

Potential future building areas on UC Berkeley campus.
Potential future building areas on the UC Berkeley campus. Image: UC Berkeley

In addition, the university should focus on building academic structures on “in-fill” areas such as surface parking lots, of which there are many. Cal should also consider tearing down parking structures on the main campus for this purpose, said Gibson. Not only might it open up space, but it would also remove cars and limit vehicle traffic to the campus perimeter, he said. Another priority is making the main campus more pedestrian and bike-friendly and one way of doing this is by moving all parking to the perimeter of the campus, he said.

The LRDP also calls for a focus on “new campus life space,” along Bancroft Way where the university meets Berkeley.

Plans to house an additional 11,700 students

Chancellor Carol Christ had already announced that the university will build new housing for 11,700 students and this number is reflected in the report. The first two projects to go forward include a 1,200-bed complex at People’s Park and The Anchor House, a 760-bed complex right across from the university on the edge of Berkeley’s downtown.

The report also identifies the Clark Kerr campus as a place to build more student housing. In 1982, the university acquired the 50-acre-campus of what was formerly known as the California State School for the Deaf and Blind. Cal signed a covenant with neighbors promising not to make any significant changes to the Spanish-Colonial Revival style campus until after 2032. Much of the campus is also landmarked. But the plan notes that an additional 1,000 beds could be constructed there by building on infill areas or tearing down existing, non-landmarked buildings.

The report also notes that the Smyth-Fernwald site, north of Clark Kerr, is vacant. The 9.2-acre hillside parcel straddles the Hayward fault. The LRDP does not recommend development on that site in the next 15 years.

Parking and transportation

The LRDP plan calls for UC Berkeley to enhance the main campus by prioritizing it as a place for pedestrians and bicyclists, not cars. The university has made strides in that direction, according to the report. Most students walk or ride their bikes to classes or take public or university-operated transportation. However, many faculty and staff drive to work, as evidenced by the fact that most parking structures in or near the campus are full during peak hours.

“Over the past fifteen years, however, campus drive-alone rates have steadily decreased by nearly thirty percent, and the use of bicycles has increased by nearly fifty percent over the same timeframe,” according to the report.

The LRDP calls for moving parking from inside the campus to lots located at its perimeter. The plan anticipates adding 1,240 parking spaces in the next 15 years, increasing availability from 6,340 spaces to 7,580.

Landscape and open space

Strawberry creek on the UC Berkeley campus
Strawberry Creek on the Cal campus: Over the next 15 years, the university plans to preserve and enhance spaces such as these, as they serve as places for “ecological, research, and recreation purposes,” as well as gathering spaces. Photo: UC Berkeley

The LRDP takes note of the natural and green spaces on the main campus as well as natural areas in the hills. Over the next 15 years, the university will preserve and enhance these spaces as they serve as places for “ecological, research, and recreation purposes,” as well as gathering spaces for the community.

“While natural areas provide opportunities for relaxation and contemplation, UC Berkeley also needs gathering spaces that contribute to interaction, community building, and a cohesive campus experience,” according to the report. “Glades and greens provide relief within the built environment, and are places for relaxation, recreation, and social interaction.”

The report also says that its “greens, courtyards and plazas” in buildings in the city of Berkeley should contribute to the “public realm.” UC Berkeley may consider streetscape improvements that support shared mobility and public realm goals, in collaboration with the City of Berkeley.