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Students Join Together to Create a Greener South Berkeley

Moving South Berkeley Forward (MSBF), a local group made up of Berkeley High School (BHS) and University of California, Berkeley students, is working on converting a section of the old Santa Fe Railroad, which used to run through Berkeley, into a green area for the community. The focus area for this project spans from South Berkeley streets Oregon and Sacramento to Bonar and Bancroft, where the train tracks are currently fenced off from the public and have been sitting unused since the railroad was closed in the ’60s.

The Santa Fe Railroad ran passenger trains through Berkeley from its opening in 1904 until the ’50s. MSBF has set its sights on the redevelopment of this South Berkeley area of the railroad, with a vision for a final product similar to these previously made green areas and sections of the Ohlone Greenway. Possible features of the green area include walking paths, an education center with a youth agriculture training program, food and gardening, play areas, and dog parks. MSBF has been canvassing the neighborhood and gathering information on what the locals need and want to see in the redeveloped railroad. By speaking to over 150 residents, MSBF found that approximately 95 percent of South Berkeley residents actively want this green development.

MSBF has also been testing the soil on the land. They know the soil contains arsenic, which is due to the fifty years of the railroad using metal contaminants. Though the land is fenced off because of the unhealthy conditions, Angel Espiritu, a sophomore in the Academy of Medicine and Public Service (AMPS) and member of MSBF, said that some people go in anyway. “There are people playing with their dogs in there, and I just get worried instantly,” she said. The positive impacts of the greenspace go beyond its physical qualities. The broader mission of MSBF is centered around one key idea: equity. “Right now in our community, we don’t have a lot of access to green spaces and healthy food like [there is] in other parts of Berkeley. In South Berkeley we have a bunch of corner stores that provide us with junk food. That’s not healthy, that’s gonna lead us to greater problems,” said Daniel Finis Perez, an Academic Choice (AC) sophomore and MSBF member. Perez thinks this project will help close the gap of access to important resources that many see in the neighborhoods of Berkeley. “Making green spaces in the community, letting the community have access to these health needs and resources, and educating [them] on the topics we’re learning would benefit their health and [help them] overall.”

Equity is a core part of the mission that MSBF is working towards. MSBF is made up of African American and Latinx students and works to better its members’. During meetings, they discuss environmental concepts such as soil health, food waste, sovereignty, and safety, and whether students should receive compensation for their work. MSBF stated that its community is a joy to be a part of. Espiritu said, “It’s fun to help out the community, and it’s also fun to do it with your friends. It’s been a really good experience in general.”

MSBF will continue to push for their project. For more information, or to fill out the green space survey, visit  movingsouthberkeleyforward.weebly.com.

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