Berkeley’s People’s Park, a symbol of protest and counterculture in the Bay Area for half a century and for years home to scores of homeless people, is one step closer to becoming college housing and housing for low-income community members, after a judge had provisionally ruled on Friday that construction can begin.
Alameda County Judge Frank Roesch ruled that UC Berkeley can begin clearing the historic park and building work because the university’s plan does not violate California law, in a decision that will not become official until it is issued in writing, likely next week Environmental Quality Act.
UC Berkeley and the City of Berkeley proposed redesigning the park in 2018, calling it a nation-first plan to build long-term supportive housing for the homeless on campus. The university would also build 1,100 units of much-needed student housing and preserve part of the park as an open green space, while erecting a monument to its turbulent history.
But two organizations — the People’s Park Historic District Advocacy Group and Make UC a Good Neighbor — jointly filed a lawsuit, arguing, among other things, that the university had other housing development options and had failed to adequately research them, as the state had done prescribe right . Two other groups filed their own challenges, which will feed into the judge’s decision.
UC spokesman Dan Mogulof said university officials are “pleased with the judge’s decision and look forward to the court formally announcing it early next week, just as we look forward to beginning construction sometime this summer.” .
But Harvey Smith, president of the People’s Park Historic District Advisory Group, said Friday that she plans to appeal the decision and ask for a stay that prevents the university from operating until a state appeals court weighs.
As the lawsuits made their way through the courts, all homeless people in the park were offered temporary housing for up to a year and a half, along with meals and social services. Few, if any, homeless people remain in the park.
City and university officials have hailed the plan as a model for other universities and a pioneering solution to both California’s homelessness crisis and the housing shortage at UC Berkeley and other UC campuses.
“It starts with partnership,” UC Berkeley Chancellor Carol Christ said earlier this spring. “And it also begins with the university accepting that it is our responsibility to address the tragedy of homelessness in our midst.”
But no one familiar with the park or its history believes that change will come easily.
People’s Park was born in 1969 when the university announced a plan to develop the property, which is about four blocks south of the Berkeley campus just east of Telegraph Avenue.
Angry at the proposed development, hundreds of people dragged lawns, trees and flowers onto the empty lot and declared it a public park. In response, UC erected a fence. The student body president-elect urged a crowd on campus to “take back the park,” and more than 6,000 people marched down the Telegraph to do just that. A violent clash ensued in which one student died and many were injured.
The park has remained a Berkeley institution ever since. According to some, it is also a magnet for crime. In May, the park was listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
Garrison reported from Sacramento, Leavenworth from Berkeley.
https://www.latimes.com/california/story/2022-07-29/judge-rules-uc-berkeley-can-clear-peoples-park-site-of-1960s-protests-to-build-housing Judge rules UC Berkeley can clear People’s Park, site of 1960s protests, to build housing