The California State Assembly gave final approval to AB 1307 on Tuesday. Now headed to Gov. Gavin Newsom’s desk, the bill will take effect immediately if signed and may support the contentious development of student housing on People’s Park.
AB 1307, introduced by Assemblymember Buffy Wicks, D-Oakland, amends the California Environmental Quality Act, or CEQA. It addresses two of the factors behind the First Appellate Court’s February decision requiring the university regents to update its environmental impact report, or EIR, for its construction project on People’s Park.
“For most housing projects, AB 1307 merely returns the world to the way it was before the February appellate court ruling,” said Erin Ivie, communications director for Wicks, in an email. “But without AB 1307, housing projects throughout the state would have to go through much more process, burden, and risk of lawsuits.”
The bill was introduced in March to address the issue of human-generated noise as an environmental impact, which Ivie noted was the more widespread part of the February ruling. She added that it was then amended in June, adding exemptions to the more case-specific “alternative sites portion” of the decision.
Its first iteration passed unanimously in the state Assembly in May, Ivie noted, and the revised version has now passed unanimously out of both the Senate and Assembly.
“We are grateful for the legislature’s remarkable and rapid response, on behalf of the people of California, to an appellate court’s unprecedented interpretation of CEQA,” said campus spokesperson Dan Mogulof in an email statement. “Left in place that court’s ruling could have prevented students across the state from getting the housing they need and deserve, while bestowing new powers on powerful NIMBYs who wish to impede the construction of housing not just for students but also for the unhoused and low-income families.”
Harvey Smith, president of the People’s Park Historic District Advocacy Group, noted that some uncertainty regarding legal implications for the construction project still remains because the issue involves the Assembly, governor’s desk and the state Supreme Court.
Despite the statute’s adoption, the Supreme Court still has jurisdiction to resolve the pending appeal of the appellate court ruling, Mogulof noted. The university will ask the Supreme Court to consider the new developments when issuing its ruling, he said, and will resume construction when the lawsuit is resolved.
The issue of alternative construction sites — one of the central points of contention — was one that the community had no input on, Smith noted. This case demonstrates the need for that input, he said, as community sentiment should have the ability to influence such decisions.
“We see this bill as special interest legislation, hand crafted to benefit UC with no public input,” Smith said. “In the last few weeks, we’ve been writing letters both to the Senate and to the Assembly, but the bill passed with a unanimous vote. It represents sort of the opposite of the democratic process.”
Smith also objected to the characterization of People’s Park advocates as privileged NIMBYs, short for Not In My Backyard, which is used to describe people who generally support a policy except in the area where they live.
He noted that the People’s Park Historic District Advocacy Group alone comprises more than 250 supporters and endorsers from Berkeley and all over the United States; the group includes students, alumni, professors, previous mayors and council members.
“We’ve always maintained that we do support more student housing for UC Berkeley,” Smith said. “For half a century, the UC hasn’t built adequate housing and has had major impacts on housing in Berkeley. So yes, we want them to build housing, just don’t destroy open space, don’t destroy a national historic site, build it at one of the other alternative sites.”
In addition, Smith expressed concerns about campus’ statement that they intend to preserve green space at the park.
Despite rumors of a memorial garden to honor the park, Lisa Teague, a member of People’s Park community, said they like their messy gardens now filled with Himalayan blackberries, kale and mallow.
“We’re already stoked in our rage,” Teague said. “There’s no question that we will be ready for any intrusion or any attempt to put up a fence and we’re gonna be prepared.”