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Berkeley sues University of California to stop student housing on parking lot

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School faculty also wants 150-unit Upper Hearst project expelled

Rendering of the planned Upper Hearst housing development in Berkeley.
The planned Upper Hearst housing development.
Rendering courtesy of UC Berkeley

The Berkeley City Council voted unanimously this week to sue the 26-member board of the University of California in an attempt to block the school from building housing on a parking lot.

The vote happened in a closed session on Monday, according to Berkeley Mayor Jesse Arreguin, who addressed the suit in a Wednesday announcement stating that the city is not objecting to the housing itself but rather to the process the school used:

We strongly support Chancellor Christ’s goals to create more student housing. The Upper Hearst Development is a worthy project and should not be saddled by a flawed EIR or cramming the issue of greater student enrollment into the report.

[...] There are increasing burdens on our streets, police and fire services. The lack of planning intensifies the housing crisis, undermining stability of our most vulnerable, including students. The University’s exempt status from property taxes and other fees places an unfair burden on local residents to address increasing growth.

The Upper Hearst Project would create 150 new units of housing for students and staff and “create vital new academic and study spaces for the Goldman School of Public Policy [and] maintain as much parking as possible,” according to the university plan.

Arreguin says it’s not the housing itself but rather the project’s draft Supplemental Environmental Impact Report (SEIR) that’s the problem.

The report includes projections about a student body increase of 11,285, an issue that the city insists requires its own EIR to be considered by the city separately.

The City Council accuses the university of trying to smuggle the issue of its population increase under the radar in a seemingly tangential report—so much so that they’re willing to hold up the entire project to go to court over it.

According to Berkeleyside, “The mayor warned the university earlier this month in a letter that UC Berkeley should not include a jump in student enrollment in the update.”

In addition, the Upper Hearst project faces dissent from university staff. According to the San Francisco Chronicle, UC Berkeley’s faculty senate voted 174-69 on Wednesday to request that the school axe the entire development, worried about potential runaway costs and the loss of parking spaces.

According the university, the Upper Hearst project is continuing with the EIR process.

“The UC Regents will consider certification of the Final Supplemental EIR and approval of the Upper Hearst Development project design at their meeting on May 15, 2019,” notes to the school site.