A BILL PASSED by the state Legislature this week may sway the state Supreme Court to clear a path for student housing and supportive housing for homeless people on People’s Park in Berkeley. 

Assembly Bill 1307 passed the state Assembly on Monday following passage in the Senate on Aug. 17. Votes in both houses were unanimous. 

It’s unclear when Gov. Gavin Newsom will consider whether to sign the bill, but it will likely be important to state Supreme Court justices when they rule on litigation between two community groups and the University of California over the university’s plans to build housing on the park. 

“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,” UC Berkeley spokesperson Dan Mogulof said by email Tuesday. 

“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,” Mogulof said.

A grassroots group of protesters rally at UC Berkeley on June 6, 2022 to oppose the university’s plan to redevelop the historic People’s Park. The university plans to construct student housing on the site. (Olivia Green/Bay City News)

The alleged NIMBYs (an acronym for the phrase not in my backyard) are likely the groups Make UC A Good Neighbor and the People’s Park Historic District Advocacy Group, which don’t want housing on People’s Park. 

The park is on the National Register of Historic Places, and it provides what the groups say is needed open space in a densely populated Berkeley neighborhood near the university. 

Neither of the community groups consider themselves NIMBYs, said Harvey Smith, who speaks on behalf of the groups. 

Rather, the groups support the development of more housing for students and California residents, who are suffering because of a lack of housing in the state.

Smith argues that the university has other sites where it can build housing while the university argues it needs to build housing on all available sites, including People’s Park.

An architectural rendering shows the proposed redesign of People’s Park surrounded by student housing for the nearby UC Berkeley campus. Opponents of the project argue that it will contribute to noise and detract from the historical nature of the property. (Image by LMS Architects/Hood Design Studio courtesy of University of California at Berkeley)

Smith countered that it may take 20 years for that to happen and if that’s the case, the groups may consider supporting housing at People’s Park. 

But he maintained that the open space of People’s Park would really be needed because even more people would be living in the area.

Mogulof said the state “Supreme Court still has jurisdiction to resolve” the litigation between the University of California and the two groups, “even though the statute has been adopted.”

“UC will ask the Supreme Court to consider the new statute when it issues its ruling,” he said. “The campus will resume construction of the People’s Park project when the lawsuit is resolved and hopes that the new law will substantially hasten the resolution of the lawsuit.”

Newsom’s office said Monday that it doesn’t “typically comment on pending legislation. The Governor will evaluate the bill on its own merits.”

The office added, “As you know, the Governor has been active on this issue and earlier this year filed an amicus brief with the California Supreme Court in support of UC Berkeley’s plan to build much-needed student housing in People’s Park.”

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.