California lawmakers aim to avoid Berkeley slashing enrollment

California lawmakers unveiled new legislation on Friday that could save the University of California Berkeley from being forced to curtail its incoming class size by thousands of students after the state’s Supreme Court upheld a freeze on enrollment last week.

The legislation, introduced in two bills by budget committees in both state houses, would provide public colleges and universities with 18 months to address issues related to the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) before courts could issue a mandate to reduce enrollment. Under CEQA, state and local governments must evaluate significant environmental impacts of projects and adopt mitigation measures.

If passed by lawmakers and signed into law by Gov. Gavin Newsom, the new proposal would take effect immediately and apply retroactively, meaning Berkeley could proceed with plans to enroll thousands more new students who would have otherwise faced deferred admission or rejection under a court-ordered enrollment freeze.

In a joint statement on Friday, Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon and Assembly Budget Chair Phil Ting said the legislation “strikes the right balance” by ensuring that campuses are still required to consider the environmental impacts of increasing campus populations while also giving university officials time before any enrollment freeze would kick in.

“We believe this addresses concerns from both sides and allows us to continue educating deserving students,” the lawmakers said. “When our legislation passes and allows the law to be applied retroactively, UC Berkeley will be able to resume its enrollment plan, which was disrupted by a misguided court order.”

The proposal comes after the state’s Supreme Court upheld a lower court ruling last week that imposed an enrollment freeze at UC Berkeley. In August, an Alameda County Superior Court judge ordered the freeze, siding with a group called Save Berkeley’s Neighborhoods who say the university has failed to examine the impact of enrollment growth on noise and housing as required under CEQA.

Under the court’s ruling, Berkeley is required to cap its enrollment at 2020-2021 levels, which the university originally estimated would require cutting more than 3,000 seats in the incoming class. The university has since lowered that figure to 2,600, according to the Associated Press.

University officials and lawmakers alike said the court’s decision is unfair to students who have worked hard to gain admission at UC Berkeley.

In a statement on Friday, Senate Budget and fiscal Review Committee Chair Nancy Skinner, D-Berkeley, said Senate Bill 118 and Assembly Bill 168 would prevent UC Berkeley from rejecting thousands of students for admission this fall, giving more students “the opportunity to benefit from public higher education.”

“It was never the intent of the Legislature for students to be viewed as environmental pollutants,” Skinner said. “This bill fixes the fact that student enrollment alone was singled out in California environmental law, while still preserving the requirement that campus long-range development plans be comprehensively reviewed for environmental impacts.”

This article was originally posted on California lawmakers aim to avoid Berkeley slashing enrollment

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