Senator Wiener introduces bill to streamline campus housing
This new legislation would propose that on-campus housing developments be exempted from additional environmental reviews
February 22, 2022
State Sen. Scott Wiener (D-San Francisco) announced a bill on Tuesday at SF State that would streamline housing developments across California college campuses.
This bill, tailored for public university systems, would facilitate the process to build campus housing. Under SB-886 –the Student & Faculty Housing bill– housing developments on University of California, California State University and community college campuses would exempt additional reviews under the California Environmental Quality Act, a state law that requires local agencies to study environmental impacts of developments.
Wiener said the legislation will make it easier and faster to create student housing zoned on campus property.
“This is fundamentally about the students and making sure that our college students in California … have a place to live,” Wiener said. “That we make sure all of our students have a place to live and that we stop with this complete failure of student housing instability.”
Earlier this month, the CSU resubmitted its application for state money to increase housing by almost 800 beds. Of the CSUs, SF State is requesting the most — in the university’s grant proposal, it states that it has room for 4,000 student beds.
For a project to qualify under SB-886, it cannot be built on sensitive land such as wetlands and fire-hazardous areas and must be zoned on land owned by the campus.
The environmental act, referred to as CEQA, serves as a law that protects the environment from harmful projects, but can be misused for purposes that “aren’t really for the environment,” said USF professor Tim Iglesias, an expert on housing law.
On-campus developments would still have to provide CEQA review but cannot be forced to undergo an entirely new CEQA review that would delay them further.
If passed, SB-886 would block opponents from using CEQA to stall or derail developments completely. The bill, co-sponsored by CA YIMBY and UC Associated Students, would exempt on-campus housing from the environmental review.
At the press conference, students criticized opponents of high-density
housing —often referred to as NIMBYs — for using CEQA laws to delay student housing that is sorely needed. UC Davis student Michelle Andrews said students are tired of hearing local politicians delegate housing responsibility instead of having cities provide housing for their cities.
“If that is the case, they need to allow us to build housing on campus,” Andrews said.
Brian Hanlon, co-founder of CA YIMBY, said housing opponents weaponized CEQA to deny California students housing and “robbed them of their future by capping enrollment at UC Berkeley.”
Earlier this month, a court ruled to freeze UC Berkeley’s admissions, forcing the school to refuse over 5,000 prospective students. The NIMBY group “Save Berkeley’s Neighborhood “sued the school and argued that the school failed to disclose the effects campus housing development would have on local traffic and noise.
YIMBY Action Executive Director Laura Foote said that CEQA doesn’t factor in suitability of denser housing.
“Trees don’t file CEQA, people do. So the more people you have close to a project, the more likely you are to be jammed by CEQA,” Foote said, one of the key speakers at the meeting.
YIMBY Law filed a lawsuit against the city of San Francisco and its Board of Supervisors this year after two projects were halted and forced to undergo new CEQA reviews.
Sonja Trauss, executive director of YIMBY Law, called the suit “exotic,” as CEQA and the Housing Accountability Act – a law that assigns zoning quotas to cities– have never been tested in court. YIMBY Law argued that the board’s decision violated the accountability act.
“We can pass all the great housing laws, all the great zoning, all the great housing element stuff in the world,” Trauss said. “But if cities and opponents can use CEQA to avoid every timeline, then like, what’s the point?”