UC Berkeley Case Highlights Need to Narrow CEQA's Reach


Liz Klebaner authored the article “UC Berkeley Case Highlights Need To Narrow CEQA's Reach” (subscription required) for Law360. The article examines the Save Berkeley Neighborhoods v. Regents of the University of California case.

In the matter, Judge Brad Seligman of the California Superior Court issued a judgment ordering UC Berkeley to void its decision to increase student enrollment for the 2022-2023 academic year and to suspend any further increases in student enrollment until the university complied with the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA). The California Court of Appeal and the California Supreme Court denied the university's emergency petitions to stay the Superior Court's judgment.

Writing for the dissent, California Supreme Court Justice Goodwin H. Liu noted that as a result of the ruling, "approximately 3,050 students may lose the opportunity to attend one of our state's premier universities this fall" and that the university appeared to be on the brink of "enrolling nearly one-third fewer undergraduates this fall compared to last fall."

The university represented in the litigation that potential tuition losses as a result of the court-imposed cap in enrollment numbered in the tens of millions of dollars and could affect its ability to offer financial aid. California Gov. Gavin Newsom filed an amicus brief in support of a stay and later appealed to the Legislature to act swiftly to moot Judge Seligman's ruling, which it did.

With breathtaking speed, the Legislature voted to amend CEQA to state that enrollment increases are not subject to CEQA review. The governor signed the bill into law on March 14.

While not an example of CEQA abuse, the Berkeley case is evidence of a massive CEQA compliance problem that is faced by public agencies throughout California. The problem is that CEQA's current reach is virtually boundless.

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