UC Berkeley drama: The students who are at risk amid enrollment controversy

Sather Gate at UC Berkeley.
Students walk past Sather Gate on the UC Berkeley campus.
(Ben Margot / Associated Press)

Good morning, and welcome to the Essential California newsletter. It’s Tuesday, Feb. 22. I’m once again Justin Ray.

A conflict between UC Berkeley and its neighbors is threatening enrollment for new students.

Here is a deep dive, but as Teresa Watanabe recently explained succinctly: “UC Berkeley announced that if a court order stands, it would be forced to slash its incoming fall 2022 class by one-third, or 3,050 seats for first-year and transfer students. The news — just a month before the campus was set to release admission decisions — set 150,000 applicants and their families on edge.”

The university’s projected reduction is in response to a ruling issued last August. Back then, an Alameda County Superior Court judge ordered an enrollment freeze and upheld a Berkeley neighborhood group’s lawsuit that challenged the environmental impact of the university’s expansion plan. Neighbors are upset by the impact of enrollment growth on traffic, noise, housing prices and the natural environment.


There are many sides to the debate, but one I want to explore is a recent development that is partially fueling the demand for UC enrollment.


More high school students are meeting UC eligibility requirements due to the UC Board of Regents decision to drop the use of the SAT and ACT for admissions decisions through 2024. The board argued that the tests exacerbated disparities involving race and income. Since the tests were dropped, applications have skyrocketed.

I remember taking the ACT and SATs on Saturdays between 2006 and 2007. It was nerve-wracking, thinking my whole future depended on how I performed at 8 a.m. in this uncomfortable environment, surrounded by strangers. It was frustrating, because I knew my family couldn’t afford all the fancy courses you could take to better prepare for the tests.

You may be familiar with this struggle, but what you may not know is why we had those tests in the first place. Oddly enough, they were made to make education more fair.

The College Board developed the SAT almost 100 years ago in order to identify promising students regardless of their backgrounds. Back then, many students that made it into elite New England schools came from elite families who lived close by, according to the Wall Street Journal. But colleges wanted to cast a wider net.

“It was a test that was built in the ‘30s, to try to find Einstein behind a plow out there,” economist Anthony Carnevale told USA Today.

But over time, this changed. Critics now say the SAT and ACT are heavily influenced by race, income and parental education levels. More than 1,000 colleges and universities have already decided to drop the testing requirement, which had become virtually impossible to maintain during the pandemic.

Now, students from many different backgrounds ⁠— especially those from families with lower incomes ⁠— are more able to obtain higher education. But there’s an aspect of the situation at UC Berkeley that many might have missed.

The enrollment cap will impose “immediate, significant, and burdensome changes to the UC Berkeley admissions process that could only be achieved at this point by delaying sending acceptance letters,” UC said.

The university added that low-income, underrepresented students would be disproportionately affected because they would have less time to obtain adequate financial assistance.

I personally fear that this enrollment cap threatens the same groups of students who wouldn’t have gotten a chance in the past.

And now, here’s what’s happening across California:

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Federal authorities have been investigating Andrew Wiederhorn, chief executive of the company that owns the Fatburger and Johnny Rockets restaurant chains, and examining one of his family member’s actions as part of an inquiry into allegations of securities and wire fraud, money laundering and attempted tax evasion, court records show. His attorney, Douglas Fuchs of Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher, said in a statement late Friday that “Mr. Wiederhorn categorically denies these allegations.” Other eye-opening details have emerged, including a raid in Beverly Hills. Los Angeles Times

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Vice President Kamala Harris stood beside Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky on Saturday, vowing U.S. support for a nation on the brink of war shortly after warning in a speech that the U.S. and its allies would punish Russia if it invades its neighbor. “The United States stands with Ukraine,” Harris said at the outset of a meeting between the two leaders and a small group of aides. “Any threats to your country, we take seriously, and we have rallied our allies and our partners to speak with one voice.” Los Angeles Times

Report says San Diego is now the nation’s least affordable metro area, surpassing San Francisco. A recent housing-related survey found that San Diego had become the least affordable metropolitan area in the nation. OJO Labs, a Texas-based digital home-buying platform that conducts the survey, draws its conclusions by analyzing housing prices and income across the country. San Diego’s home prices aren’t as high as San Francisco’s, but neither is its household income. That combination pushed San Diego just ahead of its northern counterpart in OJO’s latest monthly ranking. San Diego Union Tribune


A Hawthorne man who used his access to children through babysitting and day-care jobs to sexually abuse 20 young victims, including infants, was sentenced Friday to life in federal prison without parole. Arlan Wesley Harrell, 27, pleaded guilty to engaging in a child exploitation enterprise, obtaining custody of a minor for purposes of producing child pornography, production of child pornography and possession of child pornography, according to the U.S. attorney’s office for the Central District of California. Los Angeles Times

He thought it was a date. Instead, he walked into a deadly MS-13 trap. “Some come to La Tuna Canyon to get rid of what they don’t want. Strewn across the hillsides just off the Foothill Freeway, among the scrub and a few stubborn trees blackened by wildfire, are broken furniture legs, containers of motor oil, a baby carrier, tires, orange buckets full of broken glass and floor tiles. Some come here to look for value in what others discard,” Matthew Ormseth writes. “A little before 8 a.m. on Jan. 19, someone picking through the trash came across the body of a young man.” Los Angeles Times

A ravine off La Tuna Canyon Road
The body of Bryan Cojon Tuyuc, 20 was found in a ravine off La Tuna Canyon Road in Sunland.
(Myung J. Chun / Los Angeles Times)

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Column: Masks or no masks? Shaming or no shame? New phase of COVID-19 upends all we’ve learned. As rules around masking change, Californians are understandably confused about the rules of this uncharted territory. “Do I wear a mask to the grocery store? Do I prep my kids to take them off at school? What happens if, God forbid, I ditch the mask only to commit a bare-faced sneeze in public (although a masked one was no joy)?” columnist Anita Chabria writes. Los Angeles Times

A fox on a central Fresno rooftop became the focus of many on social media after a video was posted on Nextdoor. The video drew some concerns from pet owners, as well as questions about whether it was normal to see foxes in urban settings. One wildlife expert told the Fresno Bee that it isn’t uncommon for foxes to explore urban and natural environments, especially in the springtime when the canines seek a place for their offspring to nest. Fresno Bee


An administrator at a Santa Maria high school has resigned following an investigation by the school district into allegations of inappropriate behavior on campus. Assistant Principal Gene Rickman submitted his resignation on Wednesday, according to a spokesperson with the Santa Maria Joint Union High School District. Parents of members of the school’s cheerleading squad said their children witnessed the alleged misconduct while at cheerleading practice after school on January 31. In a statement released on Thursday, the school district said that, “We have made arrangements to ensure proper administrative coverage so that student instruction and activities are not disrupted.” It isn’t clear what that misconduct was. KSBY

The pandemic grounded Jane Goodall, who reluctantly gave up a globe-trotting life that put her on the road 300 days a year. Instead, she’s been sequestered at her family home in the south of England, far from the forest in Tanzania where her Jane Goodall Institute continues her research on chimps and conservation. “I was frustrated and angry,” Goodall conceded in a recent interview. But, she came to realize, “that wasn’t going to help anybody.” Los Angeles Times

Facebook has a superuser-supremacy problem. The Atlantic has been analyzing a massive new data set that they designed to study public behavior on the 500 U.S. Facebook pages that get the most engagement from users for more than a year. They found that a small group that produces violent and hateful content is an “elite, previously unreported class of users that produce more likes, shares, reactions, comments, and posts than 99 percent of Facebook users in America.” The Atlantic

Close-up of a finger and app icons on a smartphone
An iPhone displays the apps for Facebook and Messenger.
(Associated Press)

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This past weekend I learned of an artist named Kelela whose sultry voice is perfectly matched with subdued, yet energetic beats. Check her out!


Los Angeles: Sunny 60 San Diego: Rainy 59 San Francisco: Cloudy 55 San Jose: Overcast 52 Fresno: Rainy 51 Sacramento: Overcast 55. Got him.


Today’s California memory is from Jim Fox:

In 1960, I graduated from high school in Carlsbad. I took the bus to my summer job at Lake Tahoe. I got off the bus at night, breathed the wonderful mountain air, looked up at the bright star-filled sky, and walked into a tree! I worked at Camp Richardson, playing in a dance band. We were paid $150 a month plus room and board. If the crowd wasn’t dancing, it was our job to turn on the phonograph and play either “The Best of Ray Conniff” or “Johnny Mathis Greatest Hits” and start the dancing. Best job I ever had!

If you have a memory or story about the Golden State, share it with us. (Please keep your story to 100 words.)

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