UC Berkeley housing at People’s Park could be halted after unusual court ruling

By Bob Egelko, San Francisco Chronicle, December 28, 2022

“The University of California has committed $312 million to turn Berkeley’s historic People’s Park into housing for about 1,100 students and more than 100 of the homeless people who regularly camp on the 2.8-acre site. The project has won approval from officials in Berkeley, after UC agreed to cover the city’s added costs for police and fire services, and from an Alameda County judge, who said it complies with environmental laws.

“[However, the] university’s environmental impact report, which concluded that the housing and other planned construction would not cause needless damage, failed to analyze other potential housing sites ‘that would spare the park from demolition,’ the First District Court of Appeal in San Francisco said in a tentative ruling on the neighborhood groups’ appeal, which is scheduled for oral arguments on [January 12, 2023].

“The ruling, if endorsed by the court after the hearing, would halt the project and require the university to conduct a new environmental study.

“ ‘It’s what we’ve been saying all along — UCB has alternative sites (described in their own planning documents) so why try to build on the most controversial and inappropriate one?’ said Harvey Smith, president of the People’s Park Historic District Advocacy Group, which is a plaintiff in the lawsuit.

“Christopher Elmendorf, a UC Davis law professor who supports the university’s position in the case, said the court’s analysis in the tentative ruling could result in serious abuse of the California Environmental Quality Act, or CEQA, which requires state and local agencies to study the environmental impacts of proposed construction projects and consider less-damaging alternatives. He noted that the court, in deciding that increased noise from students could cause neighborhood problems, had cited an acoustical consultant’s findings of the typical volume of male voices at parties and on the streets.

“The university offered only ‘flimsy’ reasons for not choosing those sites rather than People’s Park for students who need housing, the court said.”

Read the full article here.  (~4 min.)

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