UC Berkeley’s proposal to develop housing in People’s Park got another shot on Friday – more than half a century after a similar plan sparked a violent clash that established People’s Park as a center of social discontent.
An Alameda County Superior Court judge issued a provisional ruling Friday evening that the university’s plan to build a $312 million housing project in People’s Park does not violate the California Environmental Quality Act.
Judge Frank Roche effectively gave UC Berkeley the fine to begin building on-site housing for 1,100 university students and 125 homeless residents within two 12- and six-story dormitory buildings — coming full circle since 1969, When there was a desire to build housing on the initial wish of the university. The 2.8-acre site ended in thousands of protesters, a state of emergency and one death.
Russell Bates, a 75-year-old Vietnam vet who has found community in People’s Park since the 1970s, and Stark Mike, 73, who currently stays at the park at night, do whatever they can to help, are ready to do. Keep the space open and empty.
“We are ready for battle,” Bates said in an interview at Parks. “That’s what it’s going to take this time. They know we’re serious about defending it.”
On Friday, lawyers for three separate cases sought to halt the development — filed jointly last year by the local 3299 union for UC service workers and community groups, calling UC a call for a better plan. Make Good Neighbors and Berkeley Citizens – all presented their arguments in court.
The groups argued that environmental impact reports within UC long range development plan, which, in part, explain how the institute plans to accommodate its ever-increasing student population over the next 15 years, were insufficient. They did not take into account how student enrollment growth would negatively affect the surrounding community, from increasing greenhouse gases to closing already dangerous wildfire evacuation routes.
Additionally, his lawyers claimed that UC officials failed to consider more than a dozen other locations for housing instead of the historic park, which was Added to the National Register of Historic Places in June.
But construction cannot begin until Judge Roche submits a written order, early next week, due to a stay issued by an appellate court earlier this month that aims to prevent any physical changes to the park. The decision was not given.
No deadline has been met to begin construction, but Friday’s decision was good news for the university, according to UC Berkeley spokesman Dan Moguloff.
“We are pleased with the judge’s decision,” Mogulof said on Friday. “We are waiting for the court to make it official next week, just as we look forward to starting construction this summer.”
In addition to the 1.7 acres, which will be protected as open space, the university has included temporary plans to honor the history of People’s Park with a memorial walkway, murals, and photo displays.
Dozens of people living in the park, which is located four blocks south of Heist Street and Dwight Way south of UC’s campus, have been moved to the Roadway Inn on University Avenue in recent months.
The housing project in People’s Park has been controversial since it was first proposed in 2018.
But the legal saga began in July 2021, when UC Regents ratified UC Berkeley’s updated Long-Range Development Plan, which forecasts enrollments to reach 48,200 by 2037.
Proponents of the development, including Chancellor Carol Christ, argue that the site is necessary for UC Berkeley to promote its own housing stock in pursuit. Of the more than 45,000 undergraduate and graduate students enrolled last fall, about 82% were left to find off-campus housing — the highest percentage among the entire California university system.
But people like Nicholas Alexander argue that the development unnecessarily eliminates a center for community and support that the homeless and marginalized residents have forged in People’s Park for decades.
“It has always been a beacon for the homeless,” Alexander said, adding that when he was homeless, the park was the first place that felt like home and also helped him attend UC Berkeley a few years later.
Anticipating that UC Berkeley officials will soon close the historic park and begin clearing the land, he is turning the park-run kitchen into a fort from March 2021—whenever construction crews And law enforcement inevitably show up.
“I hope when they put up a fence, it inspires the community. We’ve tore down the fence before. We need to show them that building here is going to be a nightmare.
A group of advocates wanting to preserve the People’s Park planned a four-day “De-Fence Fest” in protest.
Andrea Pritchett, a member of the People’s Park Council, said Friday’s provisional decision was a disappointing blow. While they don’t want riots or disruption, they said the community will not stop trying to save the park from becoming the mere “gravestone” of history that has unfolded there.
“I don’t know why these people, with their cold calculations about profit and loss, don’t understand what they are destroying,” Pritchett said. “People’s Park for so long has given us the opportunity to meet, care for, serve the needs of the poor and needy people. What’s so hard to understand?”