San Francisco

The Same Law California NIMBYs Use To Block Housing Is Now Freezing College Enrollments and Halting Hospital Expansions

A string of adverse court decisions will stop the University of California Board of Regents from adding more students to its Berkeley campus and adding more hospital beds to its medical center in San Francisco


California's landmark environmental law can stop more than just housing projects, the University of California Board of Regents discovered this week.

The governing body of the state's second-largest public university system suffered successive adverse rulings in two separate lawsuits. It is now being required to freeze student enrollment at one campus and stop the expansion of a hospital at another.

On Monday, the Superior Court of Alameda ruled that the University of California, Berkeley must keep its student population flat for the coming academic year while a more thorough study is done of the environmental impacts of bringing more young scholars onto campus.

A few days earlier, the same court ruled that construction activity will have to stop on a hospital expansion at the University of California San Francisco's (UCSF) Parnassus Heights campus while a separate lawsuit questioning that project's environmental impacts plays out.

Both lawsuits have been brought by neighborhood groups under the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA), a state law that requires government agencies to study the environmental impacts of projects they carry out.

The list of impacts that have to be studied under CEQA is long, including everything from traffic and air quality to the effects on historic resources. What counts as a project subject to CEQA has also expanded over the years to include almost any discretionary decision made by a government official, whether that's the approval of a zoning variance or the closing of a school.

Because the law allows third parties to sue if they believe the environmental impacts of a project haven't been studied enough, CEQA has become a favored tool of litigious NIMBY activists trying to shut down development in their neighborhoods.

That includes the group Save Berkeley's Neighborhoods. In 2019, it sued the UC Board of Regents after it signed off on a CEQA-required environmental impact report of a faculty housing project. That environmental impact report, contended Save Berkeley's Neighborhoods, failed to adequately study the effects of the university adding 11,000 more students since 2005. A university growth plan from that year had projected stable enrollment out to 2020.

UC Berkeley had argued that because increasing student enrollment wasn't a "project" under CEQA, it didn't have to study the environmental impacts that would come with admitting more students, reports Berkeleyside. Courts rejected that argument, however.

Tuesday's decision from Alameda County Judge Brad Seligman says that the university, in addition to freezing enrollment, will have to prepare another environmental report on its faculty housing project that takes fuller account of the impacts that a growing student population will have on noise and housing in the surrounding community.

A university spokesperson told Berkeleyside that it should take six to eight months to comply with Seligman's ruling.

"The judge has vindicated our efforts to hold UC Berkeley accountable for the severe impacts on our community from its massive enrollment increases which they made without public notice or comments. UC Berkeley must now acknowledge those impacts and propose mitigation measures that will make it a better neighbor," said Phil Bokovoy, president of Save Berkeley's Neighborhoods in a press release.

Equally triumphant is the Parnassus Neighborhood Coalition (PNC) across the bay in San Francisco, which scored a victory of its own in a separate CEQA lawsuit against the UC Board of Regents on Friday. That was when Alameda County Judge Frank Roesch ordered a temporary halt to any construction activity related to a hospital expansion at the medical center on UCSF's Parnassus Heights campus.

That project has been in the works since 2018 when UCSF got a $500 million private donation to help it expand its old and inadequate facilities.

UCSF has said it plans to add 200 new hospital beds, 762 units of student and faculty housing, as well as replace a 70-year-old hospital building that doesn't meet current seismic standards. A lack of bed space sees it turn away 3,000 patients a year, university officials have said.

That didn't sit too well with nearby community activists. Those 3,000 turned-away patients, they argued, pale in comparison to the 6,000 annual bird deaths the new UCSF facility is projected to cause. It would also shatter a 50-year-old agreement university officials had struck with neighborhood activists to not expand the Parnassus Heights campus.

Back in February, the PNC, alongside two other neighborhood groups, filed a lawsuit arguing the 2,100-page Environmental Impact Report failed CEQA's requirements. They're asking that another, more thorough report be prepared. A hearing on the PNC's request for a preliminary injunction against the UCSF expansion is set for mid-September.

While targeting different projects, and raising slightly different legal issues, both lawsuits demonstrate the anti-growth monster that CEQA has become.

Originally passed to prevent government infrastructure projects from paving over wetlands or chopping down all the redwoods, the law is now being used to prevent people from getting an education in Berkeley and medical care in San Francisco.

Growing institutions of health and higher learning would seemingly be things most people would want in their community. Unfortunately, CEQA gives a lot of weight to vocal minorities with the time and money to file lawsuits.

NEXT: Brickbat: Bad Medicine

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  1. Well, anything that reduces the number of kids being indoctrinated can’t be all bad. Think of all the student loans that the taxpayers will not have to pay off.

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  2. Has an environmental study been done on bringing illegal aliens into California been done? Just sayin’.

    1. They bring themselves, and it’s already illegal.

      1. According to the signs in the yards of a few of my neighbors, nobody is illegal…

        1. According to their political leaders, theft is not a crime.

  3. Just California being California. Nothing to see here. Move along.

    1. Well, this is especially California – San Francisco and Berkeley are not exactly Trump hotspots. Progressive lawyers are apparently opposed to any change that involves buildings, even for hospital spaces.

      1. Its always amazing how conservative progressives can be.

      2. California has large conservative areas, too, and they are quite capable of NIMbYism, too.

        1. Way to miss the point.

          1. The point being that JohannesDinkle was trying to claim that NIMBYism is a particularly progressive attitude, when it is a pretty common attitude across both major parties.

  4. More housing could lead to fewer homeless shitting in the street.

    1. LA has about 300,000 illegals from Mexico. They arrive with little or no English and an average of six years education. On top of that, they have to at least sort of hide their status, making it harder to find work.
      Look at the homeless in LA. See any Mexicans?
      It is not access to housing that accounts for homelessness; it is drugs and mental illness, or often drugs and mental illness.

      1. Anyone who says “Lazy Mexican” never worked with one.

        1. Very true.

    2. I won’t go so far as to say it wouldn’t reduce the numbers, but even unlimited free housing won’t eliminate it, unless you radically change the rules.

      If the government offers an apartment or even a cot in a shelter, there will be a long set of rules and processes that occupants have to agree to. Some won’t, some can’t, and some can’t even comprehend what the rules mean.

      Sure, if someone stole all your stuff and you had to ask for a cot, you could easily comply. But most likely you don’t have schizophrenia, you don’t have a physical need to inject an illegal substance every couple hours, you don’t have warrants out for your arrest.

  5. I have it on good authority that the only reason there is a bed shortage is because of the ‘rona.

  6. Good, The fewer Berkeley grads, the less damage they can do, like NIMBY statutes that kill growth. It is a self limiting problem. Pity all the wealth destroyed, and lives impoverished while we kill off this nonsense.

    1. Berkeley grads are not the Berkeley students of the Sixties. They are likely to be ambitious STEM students.

      But those Sixties students and their spiritual offspring are out there living in the neighborhoods around the campus.

      1. So UC grads are not generally left of center? Hmm.

        1. By what center? Left of center for the US as a whole, or left of center for California? UC Berkeley grads probably skew to the right of a typical Californian: ambitious, seeking a life of well-paid job, home ownership, etc.

  7. Australia has started building concentration camps, btw

    1. Aussies are feeling the vegemight of their totalitarian government.

    2. Good thing they turned in their guns.

    3. Once a penal colony always a penal colony.

  8. These are not the unintended consequences of the law. This is the law working as intended.

    1. It’s hilarious watching progressives walk right into their own traps.

  9. It was a long wait, but finally happened: an unarmed person was killed by a “controversial” cop Reason hasn’t howled about it.

    Exclusive: Police Lieutenant Who Killed January 6 Capitol Rioter Ashli Babbitt Finally Identified

    Byrd is a controversial figure with a record of mishandling firearms, including once leaving a loaded pistol in a Congressional Visitor Center bathroom. Roberts said Byrd’s decision to fire his weapon on January 6 indicated his unfitness for duty.

    1. Trigger happy trespasser killer.

      1. We’ll get plenty of TDS-addled assholes here to tell us he was justified.

    2. A white cop murdering a black protestor would not have his name protected for eight plus months.

  10. Can a CEQA lawsuit be used to eliminate the CEQA?

  11. It’s not really about the birds, of course. It’s just NIMBYism. The UCSF medical center is already traffic mess, and construction would impact everyone who lives in the vicinity.

    Totally worth it to have the capacity to treat 3000 more patients a year. That point should have been driven home by the pandemic.

    1. “…That point should have been driven home by the pandemic…”

      Which never seemed to require extra beds.

      1. In WA our beds have DECREASED since the beginning. Now we’re being told about how the hospitals are close to overrun because of a STAFFING SHORTAGE.

        Inslee’s solution? Mandate the vax to healthcare workers or fire them.


          Click the “Healthcare Readiness” tab and you see the number of patients in the hospital has been basically flat the entire time, but the beds are sharply dropping.

  12. California land of fruits and nuts cannot do anything except wine.

  13. If it saves just one virtue signal…

  14. The law was designed to prevent change. Success.

  15. Hoisted by their own petard. It’s just a stalling tactic because UC is the right kind of people and of course their projects will pass the review but I’m glad they’re getting a taste of their own medicine.

  16. Those 3,000 turned-away patients, they argued, pale in comparison to the 6,000 annual bird deaths the new UCSF facility is projected to cause.

    I have to admit, that’s some of the finest (non-ironic) What-about-ism I’ve seen in print.

    1. 6,000 bird deaths? Are they serving songbird in the hospital cafeteria? If that’s from hitting the windows, can’t they just put a few stickers up?

  17. “…a lawsuit arguing the 2,100-page Environmental Impact Report failed CEQA’s requirements. They’re asking that another, more thorough report…”

    More thorough than 2,100 pages? By the time anyone reads that Berkeley will be underwater.

  18. ???? What is an Alameda County judge doing ruling on a case that’s in San Francisco, which isn’t even in the county.

  19. California’s landmark environmental law can stop more than just housing projects, the University of California Board of Regents discovered this week.

    Yeah, you don’t think that well connected fascists like the people running UCB won’t have that resolved quickly, if necessary via amending the law? These kinds of restrictions just don’t apply to the instruments of the totalitarian state.

  20. the judge, Brad Seligman, had a brilliant career as a progressive cause lawyer, pioneering new legal theories and innovative remedies. he’s now on the bench and he’s ruled that (1) use of SAT tests is unlawful because it’s racist, and (2) as noted in the article, Berkeley needs to do more paperwork before enrolling new students.

  21. No problem – keep foreign students out…if that’s not enough then keep non-California resident students out.

  22. You get a law enacted. YOU have obey it too. It’s called law abiding.

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