The 1st District Court of Appeal’s opinion on UC Berkeley’s Environmental Impact Report, or EIR, regarding People’s Park is one of the recent developments in the fight over the park. With it comes debate regarding the park’s future, and we hope to redirect attention back to where it all started.
The California Environmental Quality Act, or CEQA, is at the center of the dispute. Following a lawsuit from advocate groups Make UC a Good Neighbor and The People’s Park Historic District Advocacy Group, the opinion of the 1st District Court of Appeal deemed campus’s EIR insufficient, thus delaying the development project on People’s Park indefinitely.
We believe this lawsuit serves as a distraction for the real problem at hand. Although activists and wealthy homeowners have been able to pull attention away from the park and instead toward the lawsuit and CEQA, there is still no productive solution brought to the table.
While the court ruling has delayed construction, in a way, it has also delayed progress for not only the future of People’s Park to be realized, but student housing in general.
While this lawsuit is viewed as a success for the park and its residents, it is important to recognize the motivations of each involved party. For Make UC a Good Neighbor, the aim of the lawsuit is to “protect Berkeley’s unique quality of life,” according to its website. The People’s Park Historic District Advocacy Group, on the other hand, wants to preserve the park for its historic and cultural significance, and thus ultimately views CEQA as an effective tool.
Wealthy homeowners and NIMBYs residing in Berkeley are also opposed to construction on People’s Park, as the development of further urban housing is unattractive to these current residents. They wish to block the production of any more construction as it may negatively impact their current living conditions. In any case, one thing is clear: CEQA is being used by both parties to their advantage.
The weaponization of CEQA is on display with this lawsuit controversy regarding housing developments on People’s Park. Talks of CEQA reform by Gov. Gavin Newsom have already been mentioned. But until that happens, CEQA remains eligible to be used in court for blocking housing in Berkeley for this case and potential future efforts to mitigate student housing problems.
The overlap between wealthy homeowners and activists is that they both do not want housing to be built on People’s Park. Although successful in delaying construction at this point, this lawsuit doesn’t achieve any real progress in finding a resolution for the future of People’s Park. In short, due to the court’s ruling, the EIR is sent back to campus, where more time and money will be spent in order to propose the next EIR.
We urge both parties to focus and redirect their attention back on finding compromise as urgently as possible. The future of People’s Park and student housing are still undecided and unclear. Because of all the uncertainties between the two opposing sides, it is hard to say when exactly a satisfactory conclusion can finally be reached. We must find solutions for housing — including dismantling mechanisms that indefinitely delay decisions.