In Save Berkeley’s Neighborhoods v. Regents of the University of California, 51 Cal.App.5th 226 (2020), the court of appeal rejected the University of California’s argument that it need not have prepared a Subsequent or Supplemental EIR to analyze the effects of its discretionary decisions to increase enrollment on the Berkeley campus. The University had prepared a Program EIR for its UC Berkeley Long Range Development Plan in 2005. The petitioners alleged that the LRDP EIR stated enrollment would increase by 1,650 students over the life of the plan. They also claimed that, beginning in 2007, the University made periodic decisions to increase enrollment such that, by 2018, enrollment had increased by 8,300 students.
Petitioners argued that the University’s decisions to increase enrollment constituted changes to the previously approved project and that the University had violated CEQA each time it decided to increase enrollment in the absence of a Supplemental or Subsequent EIR. They also claimed they did not know about the University’s decisions to increase enrollment until 2017 and argued that their complaint was therefore timely. The University sought dismissal of the lawsuit on the ground that the claims did not show a legal violation of CEQA, even if the allegations were true.
The court of appeal first recognized the general rule that CEQA comes into play whenever a public agency makes a discretionary decision to change a project in a way that could have a physical effect on the environment. Because changes in enrollment have the potential to result in physical environmental effects, this general rule would dictate that decisions by a public university to modify an approved development plan by increasing enrollment beyond the levels specified in the project description is a change that is subject to CEQA.
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