People’s Park case awaits court decision

In the ongoing controversy over the People’s Park project, construction has come to a halt indefinitely, and will not resume until the legal battle is resolved.

An excavator at People

An excavator at People's Park after UC Berkeley construction was halted in January

Nolan Whitehill

In the ongoing controversy over the People’s Park project, construction has come to a halt indefinitely, and will not resume until the legal battle is resolved. Construction materials were removed from the site on January 9, according to Berkeleyside.

“Since the end of August, beginning of September, we’ve tried to get UC to take them away (construction materials),” said Lisa Teague, an activist. “It had turned into a whole complicated thing, and they just now were (removed). We were thrilled.”

On January 12, both sides made their case in a series of oral arguments in court regarding the UC’s environmental impact report. The court sided with the activists, causing UC Berkeley to appeal to the Supreme Court of California. The Supreme Court usually takes a minimum of 18 months to hear a case, meaning a significant delay in construction if the project were to continue, according to Teague.

Enrique Marisol, an activist and community member, described the diverse groups that utilize People’s Park, which include unhoused individuals, hippies or free spirits, and street kids, creating a majority youth-centered community. Marisol added that he knows many people who are passionate about the park: “I’ve heard multiple people that have been out here for decades that are like, f*ck it. I don’t care if a cop shoots me.” He said. 

UC Berkeley proposes four specific objectives for the property, the first of which is to address the student housing crisis.

Dan Mogulof,  the assistant vice chancellor of the Office of Communications and Public Affairs for UC Berkeley said, “It is hard to fully become part of the university’s community if you can’t even live in the city where your university is located.” 

The UC also wants to address the crisis of unhoused people by including a path to permanent housing. The plan includes building a daytime gathering center that would provide showers, food, and access to psychological and employment counseling. 

Additionally, UC Berkeley wants to commemorate the park’s history by creating a memorial walkway that honors the path where the protesters walked in 1969.

UC Berkeley plans to build two housing facilities on People’s Park. The first building would create 1000 new beds for students and the second would provide ‘supportive’ housing. In accordance with the California Environmental Quality Act, the UC produced a report which examined the potential environmental impacts of the project and offered alternative solutions to any issues. 

However, two local activist groups, Make UC a Good Neighbor and the People’s Park Historic District Advocacy Group, claimed the UC didn’t adequately consider several issues in their report, including social noise from students occupying the new buildings and displacement in the Southside neighborhood. They argued the UC should have considered alternative sites for housing. Lisa Teague, an activist for the park, explained options for alternate sites. 

“For instance, the Channing parking garage, where they could construct beds for 2980 students,” Teague said. “Nobody likes the building, it’s not a historic landmark.” 

Activists also wanted the Environmental Impact Report (EIR) to address the possibility of lowering UC enrollment to curtail the student housing crisis. According to Teague, the court disagreed, saying that issue was out of the UC’s control.

On February 25, California’s Governor Gavin Newsom released a statement explaining the limitations of the CEQA (California Environmental Quality Act) process, and expressing a need  for change in order for California to build more housing. 

According to Mogulof, the only way to resolve the housing crisis is to use all the land UC Berkeley owns. “It’s not an either or, it’s an all of the above,” Mogulof said. Building on two sites has already started, one near Albany and the other on University and Oxford, and the UC is in the beginning stages on the Bancroft site.

Mogulof continued. “So you don’t have to believe what we say. Look at what we’re doing,” he stated, referring to the 4.5 million dollars the UC committed to addressing the crisis of unhoused people in Berkeley.

“Let’s make this a better city,” Mogulof said. “We carefully have designed a plan that’s a win-win, win. It’s a win for students. It’s a win for unhoused people because of the land that we’re donating for new housing. It’s a win for the public with revitalized open space.” 

Despite public  support for the project, the protesters  have no plans to give up their cause. As Marisol said, “It (the fight) is not ending soon.”

Mogulof acknowledged that getting both sides of the story is valuable, “It’s so important that people should take the time to read for themselves, not messages that one side or another puts out.” He said.