UC Berkeley’s proposal to build additional student housing in People’s Park has been contentious since it was announced last year. The University of California (UC) Berkeley Chancellor Carol Christ recently announced plans for the building of new residence halls on Berkeley’s long-standing People’s Park. The plans Christ announced would create a 1000 bed residence hall for UC Berkeley students, as well as a separate complex of 75 to 125 apartments of permanent housing for Berkeley’s homeless population. A memorial commemorating the park’s history and a recreation space would be built in addition to this housing. The university plans to start construction in two years, and hopes to have occupants two years after that. According to the Chancellor’s office, UC Berkeley plans to soon launch a year-long extensive public comment and engagement process to allow the community to learn about the project, and offer feedback and ideas.
This announcement comes at a time when UC Berkeley is focused on fixing their desperate need for more housing. The university currently provides housing to less than 10,000 students in its total student body of over 42,000. Non-university housing is expensive and hard to find due to the afffordable housing crisis in the Bay Area. The cost of rent has drastically risen; data from Zillow, a real estate website, shows that the median dollar-to-square-foot ratio for apartments has increased from less than $150 in 1996 to over $550 in 2019, making it hard to find two bedroom apartments which cost less than $4000 a month. Still, UC Berkeley’s decision to develop People’s Park before any of the other sites mentioned in its Housing Task Force is controversial.
Assistant Vice Chancellor Dan Mogulof wants people to know that the decision to build more student housing “is not an either/or situation. The university will need to build on all of the sites mentioned in the task force report if we are to meet the goal of doubling the number of student housing beds provided by the campus, and addressing the housing crisis.”
The decision to finally develop People’s Park, which celebrated its fiftieth
“The university will need to build all of the sites … if we are to meet the goal of doubling the number of student housing beds provided by the campus, and addressing the housing crisis.”
Dan Mogulof, UC Berkeley Assistant Vice Chancellor
anniversary this year, is a controversial one due to its long and complex history. In the years since its creation in 1969, People’s Park has remained a powerful symbol of counterculture, as well as become a community gathering spot for members of Berkeley’s homeless community.
People’s Park has different signifigance for various people, which is perhaps part of the reason why a multi-generational group of community activists has formed to save the park. Michael Delacour, 81, has lived next to People’s Park since he helped build it in the ‘60s. He described the Park as a “living room for a lot of people who don’t have a home.” Delacour believes the People’s Park community is “multiracial and ethnic,” with “a lot of the white poor youth that have recently found it a place to hang out.” The political significance of the park is very important to him, and he believes its existence is one of the only things keeping Berkeley part of a national upswing in civic participation, which includes the recent climate strike. The university doesn’t allow anyone to be in the park past 10 PM, thus the people who live at People’s Park need to sleep on small strips of city land between the sidewalk and curb.
One of the university’s justifications for developing People’s Park is the large amount of crime and drug use that take place there. In the past few years, the park has also been home to numerous violent incidents, including a shooting. UC Berkeley currently spends over $350,000 a year on its police and park maintenance.
According to Mogulof, UC Berkeley recently hired the architecture firm LMS Arch to build the housing planned for People’s Park. LMS Arch has worked on other Bay Area and UC buildings such as the UC Berkeley Jacobs Institute for Design Innovation, UC Davis Walker Hall, and Berkeley Way apartments. In addition to hiring an architect, UC Berkeley has recently selected its supportive housing developer to be Resources for Community Development (RCD). RCD is the developer for over seventy affordable housing developments including a few already in Berkeley. RCD offers four programs: housing development, asset management, resident services, and community development.
Mogulof said he believes that “most people understand that the park, in its current condition, has minimal, if any benefits, for the community … and that the university’s plans for its future are consistent with the park’s founding ideals,” while Delacour, who is considered to be a park founder, believes the park has had a positive impact on his life and the community. Delacour said that losing People’s Park would be a “downer for Berkeley.”