The well-intentioned act passed the Legislature in 1970 and was signed by then-Gov. Ronald Reagan. Just like the federal Clean Water Act that was signed by Republican President Richard Nixon, 50 years of history have seen both laws go way beyond their author’s intentions by bureaucratic overreach and court decisions. For instance, consider the Supreme Court’s decision with former Justice Anthony Kennedy joining the liberal block to declare that carbon dioxide was a pollutant. So, every time we exhale, we’re polluting. It doesn’t matter than plants require that C02 to survive in the well-balanced ecosystem God created.
Although there’s been well-spread belief that the California act needed to be amended and updated, no governor has had the moxie to take it on. Even former Gov. Jerry Brown, with his long-time environmental credentials, shied away from the fight.
Nowadays, labor unions use CEQA or threats of law suits to force developers into project labor agreements that essentially mandate union labor. Just what do wages have to do with the enivonrment you could correctly ask. Other anti-development groups, such as the Costco foes in Pleasanton, sue under the act to delay or try to stop projects.
For liberal and/or progressive Democrats that typically embrace anything “green,” the issue came home in Berkeley last week. The state Supreme Court upheld a ruling by an Alameda County superior court judge who decided UC Berkeley’s enrollment must stay at or below the number UC had set in its 2005 plan. Since that time, enrollment has grown by one-third to almost 43,000 students in the fall of 2020, way beyond the 33,000 students in the plan. The campus also came up about 1,000 beds short of the 10,790 beds in the plan.
Save Berkeley Neighborhoods sued arguing that the plan failed to account for the traffic and other impacts of the additional students. The group’s argument prevailed at both the superior court and appealate court levels before the Supreme Court agreed.
What is getting lawmakers’ attention is that the university has publically argued that it would have to rescind enrollment for about 3,000 students who were slated for admission this fall. Sacramento has been pressuring the university to admit more California students and fewer out-of-state students. The non-residents pay “market rate” tuition, almost $23,000 more than residents.
Progressive lawmakers were shocked to learn of that plan and started to push legislation to give the campus a waiver from the environmental act. That’s not unheard of—major stadium/arena projects such as SoFi in Inglewood and Chase Center in San Francisco were both given special treatment by the Legislature.
Meanwhile, the neighborhood group offered a compromise of an additional 1,000 students over the 2020-21 enrollment, an offer that was rejected Monday. By deferring some enrollments until the spring semester and starting other students online, UC Berkeley officials have been striving to minimize the effects of the ruling.
I hope this issue helps the Democrats, including the leaders in Sacramento, see well past this situation and understand the broader issues. Of course, changing the law will involve bucking big funding groups such as the building trades and the environmental groups. Tough task that will require courage and resolve.