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‘Social justice’ is an injustice when it gets in the way of what Newsom & Weiner see as righteous
Correct Dennis Wyatt mug 2022
Dennis Wyatt

Would it be remiss of a local agency in California not to require an applicant seeking to build an all-night disco on the edge of a commercial zone adjoining residential uses to address noise issues?

So why is it wrong that a state agency be required to do the same with a project they are proposing regarding noise people make by playing loud music et al when it comes to nearby residential areas?

Call it situational social justice.

Social justice, of course, is the moniker assigned in recent years to the intent of the 1970s California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) when those opposing development couldn’t muster enough traction to stop or amend projects they opposed through established interpretations of the state law.

Social justice is a term that politicians such as Gov. Gavin Newsom and State Sen. Scott Weiner of San Francisco often toss around with abandon. It makes a good sound bite.

Newsom and Weiner — who can safely be described as social justice warriors when it suits them — have vowed to tackle the sacred document of California’s social justice warriors.

They want to reform the CEQA law they say has been weaponized by “wealthy” homeowners to block badly-needed housing for students at the University of California, Berkeley.

The trick, of course, will be to keep the ability of “poor” homeowners and renters to block housing projects they don’t like.

UC Berkeley plans to convert People’s Park to housing for 1,100 students and 125 formerly homeless people triggered Newsom’s epiphany last week that CEQA has been twisted way beyond is original intent.

Newsom and Weiner are irked that the 1st District Court of appeals two Fridays aho found that the state university system “failed to assess potential noise impacts from loud student parties in residential neighborhoods near the campus” as required by CEQA when it planned new housing near the campus.

Weiner called the ruling “horrific” given implications it classifies noises from people as an environmental impact.

That prompted this gem of a quote from Weiner, “It introduces the idea that people are pollution.”

Duh. Where has he been for the last 53 years? The entire premise behind CEQA in its rawest form is that people are pollution.

Build homes that people need to live in and you’re creating everything from traffic pollution and air pollution, to “view” pollution.

Development happens in order to accommodate people whether it is a place to live, a place to work, a place that produces goods, a place that sells products, a place to get from Point A to Point B, an airport to fly out of — you get the picture.

Let’s say Newsom and Weiner come up with a rework that prevents Steph Curry and his neighbors in Atherton from trying to derail a multiple family project near their estates or those in a  working class neighborhood in Delano from using non-profit legal services to try and stop a homeless shelter near their neighborhood.

It still does not address the root cause of why neighborhood-based groups in Berkeley — and even that city’s government — took on the state in the first place.

Weiner a year ago introduced legislation to exempt California’s public colleges and universities from the state-imposed environmental review process. That was prompted by an initial court ruling in 2022 that blocked UC Berkeley from expanding its enrollment beyond 42,000 students until concerns of nearby residents and the city are addressed.

Weiner tried to frame those who forced the issue — including the city of Berkeley — as pursuing  a  NIMBY (not in my backyard)  lawsuit.

Anti-NIMBYism laws were advanced to prevent people from using CEQA from exacerbating the state’s housing shortage for the sole purpose of keeping their neighborhood what it is whether it is housing density, preserving “views” or even socio-economic levels.

This is not what has been driving lawsuits in Berkeley.

UC Berkeley is not paying its fair share for the stress and demand they are placing on municipal services whether it is public safety, parks upkeep, street maintenance, and other functions.

At the same time, even with what housing UC Berkeley is willing to build, it doesn’t come anywhere close to housing enrollment growth that has already occurred and what is planned.

This means more and more off-campus houses owned by investors are being converted into mini-dorms often was as many as 12 people in a three- to four-bedroom house paying $1,000 not to rent a bedroom but to simply rent a place to sleep.

What this ends up doing is making housing less affordable for people who work in Berkeley and who also try to live there. It also creates a growing homeless situation impacting the local population.

A 2005 campus planning document called for enrollment to grow to 33,450 by 2020. Instead, it grew to 43,347. Ultimately, UC Berkeley is now aiming for 67,200 students, faculty and support staff.

The university has been paying the city $1.8 million for its impact on city services. Keep in mind the university pays neither property tax nor does it collect sales tax as a private sector business would.

The city took exception from a supplemental EIR claim by the university that growing the enrollment by 30 percent did not require an increase in the $1.8 million annual “in lieu” payment.

The city conducted an analysis of the fiscal impact of the university on municipal services. It took into account the real current cost of the base assumption on the original enrollment the $1.8 million annual payment was based on. It included the impact of enrollment growth since then as well as the impact of planned future enrollment growth.

The city determined the justified annual payment from the university should be $23 million and not $1.8 million.

The university argued there should be no increase in the annual payment. But because they insisted they were basically nice guys they offered to increase the payment by $480,000 to cover city costs associated with future enrollment growth of 30 percent.

 In case you’re wondering, $480,000 doesn’t quite cover the salary of two additional Berkeley police officers.

It actually is worse than it sounds.

Berkeley provides on-campus housing for 22 percent of its undergraduates and 9 percent of its graduate students. Compare that to the average for a UC campus of 38.1 percent for undergraduates and 19.6 for graduate students.

The overwhelming majority of those housed off campus are jammed into “mini-dorms” investors — most out-of-town and a number out of country — created by converting houses. Rare are the “mini-dorms where the housing ratio is even as low as two students per bedroom.

These are “mini-dorms” with no on-site supervision that generate astronomically high calls for service from firefighters for medical emergencies to police for everything from violence to noise complaints.

This is why an Alameda Superior Court judge ordered the suspension of UC Berkeley plans to construct more classrooms and housing until the issues are addressed. The judge also ordered enrollment capped at the 2020-21 level of just over 42,000 students.

That forced UC Berkeley to cut its fall 2022 enrollment to just over 42,000 students.

The root cause of lawsuits in Berkeley are of no concern to Newsom and Weiner who are framing the  latest appeal court ruling as an anti-housing decision oozing with NIMBYism.

 This column is the opinion of Dennis Wyatt, and does not necessarily represent the opinions of The Courier or 209 Multimedia.