California Lawmakers Approve Rescue Bill to Avert Enrollment Cuts at Berkeley

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Ten days before the University of California at Berkeley was scheduled to notify applicants whether they’d been accepted in-person, online, or spring only, state lawmakers approved legislation on Monday that would allow it to avoid those distinctions — its response to court-ordered enrollment cuts — for the coming fall.

Both the California State Assembly and the State Senate voted unanimously in favor of SB 118, which essentially overrides the decision of the state Supreme Court. That court had upheld two lower court rulings freezing enrollment at 2020-21 levels.

Gov. Gavin Newsom is expected to sign the bill, which would give Berkeley 18 months to complete an environmental review of its expansion efforts before a court-ordered freeze on enrollment could take place. The legislation also changes the California Environmental Quality Act so that enrollment shifts don’t constitute, by themselves, a “project” subject to environmental restrictions.

The university is scheduled to send out acceptances for its fall 2022 class by March 24, and it had planned to tell 1,000 students they could enroll online only for the fall semester and 635 more that they’d have to defer to the spring semester. Now, that probably won’t be necessary.

A Berkeley spokesman, Dan Mogulof, said the university will provide more details on fall enrollment plans after the governor signs the legislation.

Berkeley’s chancellor, Carol T. Christ, thanked lawmakers “on behalf of thousands of students who will benefit” from the vote. “At Berkeley we are, and will remain, committed to continuing our efforts to address a student-housing crisis through new construction of below-market housing,” she said in a written statement. “We look forward to working in close, constructive collaboration with our partners in Sacramento in order to advance our shared interest in providing California students with an exceptional experience and education.”

Michael V. Drake, president of the University of California system, said the legislation affirms the university’s obligations under state environmental laws “while also safeguarding the bright futures of thousands of hardworking prospective UC-Berkeley students.”

The neighborhood group that sued the university over its recent expansion blasted the legislation as “poorly drafted and confusing.”

“We hope that Governor Newsom recognizes that SB 118 will hurt students more than help and not sign this bill,” Phil Bokovoy, president of Save Berkeley Neighborhoods, said in a statement.

“UC-Berkeley does not have the capacity to handle more students, and more than 10 percent of current Berkeley students suffer homelessness during their education. In addition, more than 15 percent suffer from food insecurity,” he added. “We don’t want new students to have to live in cars, campers, and hotel rooms like they are in Santa Barbara.”

Bokovoy predicted the legislation would worsen the area’s housing crisis and result in additional litigation.

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