Some Berkeley residents have won a victory in their bid to tie enrollment at the city’s elite university to the construction of housing for its students.

But as a result, thousands of potential University of California at Berkeley students may need to attend another university in the fall.

The California Supreme Court denied UC Berkeley’s request to review a lower court ruling that requires the university to cap enrollment at 2020-21 levels. That means the lower court’s ruling stands for now.

UC Berkeley also asked Supreme Court justices to put a hold on the lower court’s ruling, but by refusing to review the case, justices denied the stay, too. Justices Goodwin Liu and Joshua Groban dissented.

Phil Bokovoy, president of the group Save Berkeley’s Neighborhoods, which filed the suit against the university, said his group is pleased with the court’s ruling.

Bokovoy added, “We’d like to assure deserving California high school students that we are as disappointed as they are that UC has tried to use them as pawns in UC’s attempts to avoid mitigating the impacts from the massive enrollment increases over the past few years.

“By creating a tremendous housing shortage in Berkeley, the Regents have made it impossible for many students, particularly students from lower income families, to attend Berkeley and the data show that Pell Grant recipients have fallen from 34 percent to 26 percent, with the housing crisis a major contributor to the decline,” he said.

‘Extremely disheartened’

University officials are “extremely disheartened” by the ruling, they said in a statement.

“This is devastating news for the students who have worked so hard for and have earned an offer of a seat in our fall 2022 class,” said chancellor Carol Christ and interim executive vice chancellor and provost Catherine Koshland in a statement. “Our fight on behalf of every one of these students continues.”

The case remains before the California Court of Appeal. UC Berkeley sought to be heard before the state Supreme Court because offers of admission were scheduled to be made on March 24.

Now the university will focus on mitigating the harm to potential students by increasing online enrollment and/or asking new first-year students to start in January 2023 rather than in the fall, Christ and Koshland said.

“This is devastating news for the students who have worked so hard for and have earned an offer of a seat in our fall 2022 class.”

UC Berkeley statement

Priority for fall, in-person enrollment will be given to California residents and transfer students.

“While these strategies will enable UC Berkeley to make available as many enrollment seats as we can, the lower court order leaves us with options that are far from ideal,” Christ and Koshland said.

Berkeley Mayor Jesse Arreguin said he is disappointed with the Supreme Court’s decision. City officials oppose the enrollment cap. Arreguin thinks elected state leaders will legislate around the enrollment freeze.

“It’s tragic that California allows courts and environmental laws to determine how many students UC Berkeley and other public colleges can educate,” state Sen. Scott Wiener, D-San Francisco, said in a statement.

“This ruling directly harms thousands of young people and robs them of so many opportunities,” Wiener said. “We must never allow this to happen again. We must change the law. And we will.”

Incentive, not settlement

Bokovoy said his group is not in a position to accept a cash payment to settle the suit.

“What we want is a binding agreement where the university has an incentive to produce housing,” Bokovoy said.

He said UC Davis, UC Santa Cruz and UC Santa Barbara have agreements tying enrollment growth to housing. Bokovoy’s group wants UC Berkeley to build housing on land it already owns rather than acquiring more land for housing.

The university has identified 11,000 beds that could be built on property it already owns, Bokovoy said.

He added that UC Berkeley’s Richmond property could be a good place for labs and housing. The University of California at San Francisco recently built a campus in Mission Bay that includes housing.

“It’s not a new strategy for them,” Bokovoy said.

Keith Burbank, Bay City News

Keith Burbank is currently a fulltime reporter covering Alameda County and Oakland news for Bay City News. He has also worked on the Data Points project for Local News Matters, finding trends and stories about the region through data. In 2019, he was a California Fellow at the USC Annenberg Center for Health Journalism, producing a series about homeless deaths in Santa Clara County. He worked as a swing shift editor for the newswire for several years as well. Outside of journalism, Keith enjoys computer programming, math, economics and music.