A deal that UC Berkeley and the city struck for more student housing is under fire.
A coalition of neighborhood groups that sued Mayor Jesse Arreguín and the Berkeley City Council in July has now added the university to its target, the Mercury News reported. The group said the school violated state law by striking the deal in a closed session to pay more for police and fire services in exchange for approval of its housing plan.
The agreement would double what the school pays for city services to $4.1 million. The city, in return, would drop lawsuits claiming the university’s 2021 Long Range Development Plan could harm the environment.
The school’s plan includes a contentious proposal to build 12- and six-story residential buildings that would house 1,100 students and 125 homeless people on a part of the historic People’s Park a few blocks from campus. Activists say the area should remain a public park.
The groups, which include Make UC a Good Neighbor, People’s Park Historic District Advocacy Group and People’s Park Council, say the city and school violated at least three state and local laws when they completed the deal.
According to the lawsuit, the Berkeley City Council violated the state’s open meetings law, known as the Brown Act, when it approved the settlement in a closed session without later disclosing it to the public.
City Attorney Farimah Brown has said that public disclosure wasn’t needed because the UC Board of Regents still needed to ratify the settlement. The suit says the public didn’t have a meaningful opportunity to understand and address issues brought up by the deal.
A decision that impacts the city’s 120,000 residents shouldn’t be made solely by elected officials, according to Harvey Smith, a Berkeley graduate and member of People’s Park Historic District Advocacy Group
“If there had been an open discussion and they had taken testimony, maybe there would have been some semblance of a democratic process,” Smith said. “We probably would have not been happy with the outcome and would be grumbling about it, but at least we wouldn’t say ‘this is an illegal secret agreement.’ It was a backroom deal.”
[MN] — Victoria Pruitt