Government is flailing, in part because liberals hobbled it

By | March 13, 2022

Ezra Klein writes:

There’s a strange story unfolding in Berkeley, Calif., right now. That may present as a tautology, but bear with me. This one provides a window into a problem that endangers us all.

An organization called Save Berkeley’s Neighborhoods, led by a former investment banker, sued the University of California, Berkeley for adding too many students, too quickly, without careful enough consideration of how bad students are for the environment.

If the number of students at U.C. Berkeley seems of questionable environmental relevance, well, I’d say you’re right. If this sounds to you like a bunch of homeowners who don’t want more college kids partying nearby, I’d probably agree. But the courts sided with Save Berkeley’s Neighborhoods and froze the university’s enrollment at last year’s levels, forcing it to potentially rescind admission to thousands of students and ordering it to conduct a deeper assessment of the harm students could inflict (more trash, more noise, more homelessness and more traffic were all mentioned in the court case, if you’re curious about the specifics).

This kind of NIMBYISM is noxious. The way to ease homelessness in Berkeley is to build more homes for everyone, not keep out a bunch of kids looking to better their lives. And if there’s too much trash, maybe nearby homeowners, who’ve seen their property values rise to astonishing levels in large part because of U.C. Berkeley’s gleam, should pay higher property taxes for more frequent pickup. But on its own, it’s hard to get too exercised about this suit. The world has bigger problems than the size of Cal’s incoming class.

Zoom out from the specifics, though, and look at what it reveals about how government, even in the bluest of blue communities, actually works. Why was it so easy for a few local homeowners to block U.C. Berkeley’s plans, over the opposition of not just the powerful U.C. system but also the mayor of Berkeley and the governor of California? The answer, in this case, was the California Environmental Quality Act — a bill proposed by environmentalists and signed into law in 1970 by Gov. Ronald Reagan that demands rigorous environmental impact reviews for public projects, and that has become an all-purpose weapon for anyone who wants to stymie a new public project or one that requires public approval. [Continue reading…]

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