California Says – Student Voices Aren’t Pollution

October 16, 2023 by Chris Gaarder

Sunset over Berkeley clocktower and the San Francisco Bay. Photo by Joe Parks.

If a college student makes a sound, have they created a significant environmental effect?

If a college student makes a sound, have they created a significant environmental effect?

After California Governor Gavin Newsom signed AB 1307 into law on September 7, the answer is now, “No,” under the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA).[1]

As California responds to its high housing costs, state lawmakers have proposed a slew of bills to spur homebuilding.[2] For example, creative legislation opened the door to bring backyard homes into the mainstream.[3]  But compliance with CEQA remains a major hurdle. Environmentally beneficial infill housing and transit-oriented land use plans are frequently challenged under CEQA, where neighborhood opponents treat people as pollution.[4]

UC Berkeley is facing a CEQA challenge for its proposal to build a dorm for more than 1,000 students and supportive housing for 160 formerly homeless people on the “People’s Park.”[5] This is UC Berkeley’s third effort in over 50 years to build student housing on the site.[6]

Project opponents challenged the adequacy of UC Berkeley’s environmental impact report (EIR). After a trial court judge ruled in favor of the project, the case was appealed to the intermediate-level Court of Appeals.[7] The appellate court ruled that “the EIR failed to analyze potential noise impacts from loud student parties in residential areas near the campus, where student parties have been a problem for years,” adjudging that failure as significant enough to impair the EIR and halt progress on the project.[8] The California Supreme Court granted a petition for review, and within five days, AB 1307 was unanimously approved by the California Assembly, its house of origin.[9] With the ultimate passage of AB 1307, the “human noise” basis for challenging the EIR is moot; but the opponents remain, and unraveling the lawsuit will take, at best, many more months before the project can proceed.[10]

The passage of AB 1307 does not mean quiet neighborhoods will be subject to throngs of unruly students, liberated from any sort of limit on their noisemaking. Rather, California’s environmental laws will not prejudge students as undesirable neighbors in developed neighborhoods like the one where the People’s Park is located. If students stray, existing local nuisance processes can bring them into line.[11] UC Berkeley’s students can celebrate, so long as they don’t cheer too loudly.


[1] 2023 Cal. Legis. Serv. Ch. 160 (A.B. 1307) (West).

[2] Legis. Analyst’s Off., California’s High Housing Costs: Causes and Consequences (Mar. 15, 2015),; Katy St. Clair, Newsom signs 56 housing bills to boost affordability and help tenants, NBC Bay Area (Oct. 12, 2023),

[3] Erica Werner, ‘Granny flats’ play surprising role in easing California’s housing woes, Washington Post (May 21, 2023),

[4] Jennifer Hernandez, California Environmental Quality Act Lawsuits and California’s Housing Crisis, 24 Hastings Envi. L. J. 1 (Winter 2018); M. Nolan Gray, How Californians Are Weaponizing Environmental Law, The Atlantic (Mar. 21, 2021); Mikhail Zinshteyn & Ben Christopher, As one more housing project stalls on noise concerns, another head sprouts from ‘CEQA Hydra,’ CalMatters (Sept. 8, 2023)

[5] Noah Goldberg, Bill paves way for student housing, L.A. Times, Sept. 9, 2023, at B3.

[6] Edward Wong, A ’60s-Style Uproar Over People’s Park, L.A. Times, May 9, 1999, at 22.

[7] Make UC a Good Neighbor v. Regents of the Univ. of Cal., 88 Cal.App.5th 656, 665 (Ct. App. Mar. 16, 2023).

[8] Id., 685.

[9] Make UC a Good Neighbor v. Regents of the Univ. of Cal., 528 P.3d 872 (Cal. May 17, 2023); “AB 1307 California Environmental Quality Act: noise impact: residential projects,” Cal. Legis. Info. (accessed Oct. 13, 2023),

[10] Mikhail Zinshteyn, Why new UC Berkeley housing law, if approved, won’t clear the way to build dorms yet, CalMatters (Sept. 8, 2023),

[11] Assembly Floor Analysis (Assembly Third Reading) – AB 1307, Cal. Legis. Info. (May 19, 2023),