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Swift Legislative Action Removes Public College Enrollment as a Separate Consideration under CEQA for Public Higher Education Campus Long-Range Development Plans

  • March 23, 2022

March 23, 2022

On Monday, March 14, 2022, the California Legislature passed, and Governor Gavin Newsom signed into law, Senate Bill 118 (SB 118), emergency legislation that amends the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) as it applies to a public community college district (CCD) or university when selecting the location for a particular campus and approving a long-range development plan.  Prior to the passage of SB 118, a public CCD or university was required to consider the environmental effects related to changes in enrollment levels for each campus in the Environmental Impact Report (EIR) prepared for the long-range development plan.  The bill removes student enrollment in public higher education as a separate consideration under CEQA, and makes it clear that student enrollment, or changes in enrollment, by itself, does not constitute a project for purposes of CEQA.

Instead, SB 118 authorizes a court to order a public CCD or university to prepare a new, supplemental, or subsequent EIR for a campus if the court determines that increases in campus population exceed projections adopted in the most recent long-range development plan analyzed in the supporting EIR and result in significant environmental impacts.  A CCD or university would have eighteen (18) months to address environmental concerns raised by CEQA before a court could enjoin increases in campus population.

The new legislation was enacted in response to, and nullifies, a recent California Supreme Court decision not to postpone a drastic cap on enrollment at the University of California for the upcoming academic year.  The Court’s ruling garnered national attention because it meant the University of California’s flagship campus, UC Berkeley, had to freeze enrollment at its 2020-2021 levels until it could conduct adequate environmental review of its growing student body.

The new law goes into effect immediately and applies retroactively to any decision related to enrollment or changes in enrollment made before the effective date of the bill.  If you have any questions regarding the changes implemented by SB 118, or CEQA compliance in general, please do not hesitate to contact a DWK attorney in our Business, Property & Construction Law practice group.

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