Supreme Court Greenlights UC Berkeley Housing Project Amid Legislative Changes

Make UC a Good Neighbor v. Regents of the University of California
(2024) 548 P.3d 1051 (Case No. S279242)

In a greatly anticipated decision involving UC Berkeley’s proposed student housing project at People’s Park and its related Long Range Development Plan (LRDP), the Supreme Court unanimously reversed the Court of Appeal’s decision and ruled in favor of the Regents of the University of California (Regents). At issue were Make UC a Good Neighbors’ (petitioners) claims that the Regents’ 2021 Environmental Impact Report (EIR) failed to adequately consider noise impacts from student parties and did not sufficiently evaluate alternative locations.[1] However, recent legislative changes codified on an urgency basis through Assembly Bill (AB) 1307 (2023-2024 Reg. Sess.) made clear that: (1) noise from residential projects is not a significant environmental impact for purposes of the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA), and (2) certain housing projects sponsored by public higher education institutions are exempt from needing to consider alternative locations. The Supreme Court’s decision aligns with the legislative changes, allowing the Regents’ student housing project to proceed.

Factual Background

The case centered on a legal dispute over the Regents’ proposed student housing project at People’s Park, a site with historical significance due to its association with social and political activism since the 1960s. Currently, the UC Berkeley campus houses only 23 percent of its 45,000 students, the lowest rate in the University of California system. Implementation of the LRDP would add 11,730 new student beds to the campus over time. The project at People’s Park, specifically, would add 1,113 student beds and 125 affordable & supportive housing beds for lower-income or formerly homeless individuals not affiliated with the university.

Procedural Background

As mentioned above, the 2021 EIR was challenged by the petitioners on the grounds that it did not adequately address the noise impacts from student parties and failed to explore alternative locations. The trial court ruled in the Regents’ favor and denied the petition. However, the appellate court ruled that the 2021 EIR was inadequate on both topics – student-generated noise and alternative locations for site development.

Assembly Bill 1307

After the Supreme Court granted review, the Legislature passed AB 1307, introducing new sections to the Public Resources Code of direct and immediate relevance. Section 21085 states that noise from occupants and guests in residential projects is not considered a significant environmental impact. Additionally, section 21085.2 specifies that public higher education institutions are not required to consider alternative locations for residential or mixed-use housing projects in an EIR if the project site is no larger than five acres, surrounded by urban uses, and included in the most recent LRDP.

Section 21085 Analysis

Petitioners conceded that AB 1307 precluded the Court from requiring an analysis of social noise impacts attributable to the project at People’s Park. However, petitioners maintained that the Regents’ 2021 EIR was deficient for not considering broader social noise impacts from the LRDP, arguing the LRDP was not an eligible “residential project” under section 21085.

The Court found it unnecessary to conclusively define “residential projects” in section 21085, noting that – even if the LRDP is not a plan to add residential units – the legislative history of AB 1307 supported a broad interpretation. Specifically, the legislative history plainly documented that the Legislature’s intent was to clarify that social noise from residential projects does not constitute a significant environmental impact under CEQA, directly rebuking the appellate court’s conclusion that the 2021 EIR was inadequate. Therefore, the Court broadly applied section 21085 to the LRDP’s residential aspects. This interpretation aligned with the Legislature’s related goals to streamline housing development and address noise concerns through local ordinances rather than CEQA. Public policy also supported this interpretation, ensuring that broader land use planning decisions are not subjected to more stringent noise impact analysis than specific housing projects.

Section 21085.2 Analysis

Petitioners acknowledged that the project at People’s Park satisfied the requirements contained in section 21085.2, thereby eliminating the requirement to consider alternative locations. However, petitioners claimed that the Court should still address the general issue due to its broad public interest, and specifically opine as to the application of section 21085.2 to future residential projects contained within the LRDP. The Court rejected petitioners’ request, noting that it was not presented in the petition for review. The Court also clarified that the mootness doctrine did not apply: this is because section 21085.2 did not make it impossible for the Court to grant relief; instead, it simply determined petitioners were not entitled to relief and were not the prevailing parties.


This ruling from the Supreme Court allows UC Berkeley to proceed with the People’s Park housing project without needing to address the previously contested noise concerns and location alternatives in the EIR. This decision underscores the legislative intent to facilitate residential development and address housing shortages without the burden of extended CEQA reviews on social noise and location alternatives.

[1] The 2021 EIR provided a program-level environmental impact analysis for the Regents’ LRDP for the UC Berkeley campus, and a project-level environmental impact analysis for Housing Project No. 2 therein – the student housing project at People’s Park.

[This alert does not constitute legal advice and no attorney-client relationship is created by viewing or responding to this alert.  Legal counsel should be sought for answers to specific legal questions.]