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California Supreme Court Orders UC Berkeley To Freeze Enrollment At 2020 Levels

BERKELEY (CBS / AP) -- The University of California, Berkeley was ordered by California's Supreme Court on Thursday to freeze its undergraduate enrollment at 2020-21 levels, meaning it will have to accept at least 3,000 fewer students than planned for the upcoming academic year.

Thursday's decision is the result of a legal battle with a residents group called Save Berkeley Neighborhoods that sued the university for failing to address the effect of increased student enrollment on housing, homelessness, traffic and noise.

In a statement from the university, officials said they were "extremely disheartened" by the ruling, which leaves intact a lower court's order and rejects the university's request to lift the enrollment cap while it appeals the original lawsuit by the neighborhood group.

"This is devastating news for the thousands of students who have worked so hard and have earned a seat in our fall 2022 class," the university said in the statement. "Our fight on behalf of every one of these students continues."

Berkeley Mayor Jesse Arreguin was also critical of the court's ruling. "Freezing enrollment at pandemic levels and denying thousands of highly qualified students a world class education is wrong," the mayor said in a statement. "While the University must grow responsibly, it should not come at the expense of closing the door to students."

Meanwhile, State Sen. Scott Wiener (D-San Francisco), who has introduced several bills addressing the state's ongoing housing shortage, pledged action at the state capital in response.

"It's tragic that California allows courts and environmental laws to determine how many students UC Berkeley and other public colleges can educate," Wiener said. "This ruling directly harms thousands of young people and robs them of so many opportunities. We must never allow this to happen again. We must change the law -- and we will."

"I'm pretty anxious and very nervous actually," said student Jaiden Kainoa.

This is Kainoa's third year applying to Berkeley. The court ruling is another blow to his hopes of getting into his dream school.

"(It's) disappointing, heartbreaking, a bit hard to read that. To know that I've been rejected from that school before and know how hard it is to get into there and now I'm being told it's going to get exponentially harder than that," he added.

Kainoa can only wait and hope that he will be one of the lucky ones to get an acceptance letter.

"None of us did anything wrong. We've been doing what we were told to do, to work hard and then we get news like this that detours our hopes and plans," he said.

Students are caught in the middle of the feud between the university and the community group.

"It is not too late to find a solution that mitigates the local community's environmental concerns without leaving 3050 of our young people behind. We look forward to meeting with President Drake as soon as possible to get the settlement process started," said Phil Bokovoy with Save Berkeley's Neighborhoods.

In August, an Alameda County Superior Court sided with the Berkeley residents, suspending a proposed faculty housing and classroom construction project, and ordered the campus to limit enrollment to its 2020-2021 level of just over 42,000 students.

The school sent letters to applicants saying it would need to cut undergraduate enrollment by at least 3,000 students, sending prospective students and their families into a panic.

An appeals court last month denied UC's request to lift the enrollment freeze as the case continues. The decision prompted Gov. Gavin Newsom to file a friend of the court brief asking the California Supreme Court to block the enrollment cap, saying in a statement that a lawsuit should not "get in the way of the education and dreams of thousands of students who are our future leaders and innovators."

Freezing enrollment at the 2020-21 level means that the university is capped at a student population of 42,347, and not be able to offer an additional 3,050 seats for incoming first-year students and transfer students as planned for the fall of 2022.

The university has said that it stands to lose at least $57 million in tuition by not admitting the additional students.

© Copyright 2022 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. KPIX 5's Andrea Nakano contributed to this report

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