Tents are already popping back up at People’s Park in Berkeley, and UC Berkeley must submit a legal filing today to prove that other sites were inadequate for a 16-story student housing project that they now can’t start building until October at the earliest.
Fall semester technically begins today at UC Berkeley, and some returning students might be a little surprised at what they see upon returning to good ol’ Berserkeley. Longtime activist haunt People’s Park was slated to be cleared for a 16-story student housing development that would house some 1,100 students. But the university started clearing the land, which they own, in a late-night police operation in the wee hours of August 3 where the park was fully fenced off.
That only only aggravated the famous Berkeley protester proletariat, who took the park back the next afternoon by knocking down fences, wreaking havoc on construction equipment, and have now basically occupied the park.
People’s Park not looking that inviting this morning. Would be very interesting to read interviews with students who are just walking by it on their way to school. @berkeleyside @SupriyaYelimeli pic.twitter.com/fzoAHMio1q
— Maksim Ioffe (@maksim_ioffe) August 17, 2022
And in an all-time great example of “How Berkeley Can You Be?,” the Alameda County Sheriff’s Department said they would refuse to clear the park of protesters in their own protest of Berkeley’s ban on the use of pepper spray and tear gas.
Berkeleyside reported that a judge then halted the construction at the park in a late Thursday night ruling on August 4, and construction cannot begin until at least October. In comments to the New York Times, UC spokesperson Dan Mogulof insisted that construction would, indeed, begin, at some point.
“Obviously, we’re going to seek to avoid any repeat of what happened last time around,” he told the Times. “The commitment to the project is unwavering, but we need to rethink how we’re going to approach that given the sort of response and behavior we’ve seen.”
Campus officials tell the Times that choosing the right time to start construction will be tricky, and they want to “ensure that the work doesn’t disrupt classes and that workers will be safe.”
We're speaking w/ @dmogulof, Harvey Smith & @SupriyaYelimeli about the latest fight for People's Park & UC Berkeley's plan for the space.
❓What do you think the future of People's Park should look like?
— KQED Forum (@KQEDForum) August 17, 2022
People’s Park got the KQED Forum treatment this morning, and Berkeleyside’s Supriya Yelimeli gave an assessment of how the park looked at 5 p.m. Tuesday night. “There is now again, maybe I would say ten tents there. Those are people who are occupying the park,” she explained. “The People’s Park Kitchen, also run by activists, has used some of the fencing that was put around the park to block in the kitchen itself.”
“Most of the folks at the park now are actively protesting for it,” she added.
View of the park as of today. No more chess games and folks sitting around, but the People's Park garden is still being watered w sprinklers, tents are here for those occupying in protest, others in the area just hanging out. pic.twitter.com/LGIfpuTLtz
— Supriya Yelimeli (@SupriyaYelimeli) August 17, 2022
With students now returning, UC Berkeley Chancellor Carol Christ sent a Monday open letter to students explaining the current state of affairs to likely perplexed students. “While this injunction will add further delay and significant costs to the project, the court has ordered an expedited process, and a ruling is likely in October,” she wrote. “We have great confidence in the strength of our legal position and remain strongly committed to the project.”
The student housing crisis at UC Berkeley is urgent and real — students should be able to live close to the campus and among their peers.
That's why we need housing at People's Park. 🏘️🏘️🏡🏡https://t.co/G0XRI9hOzg
— UC Berkeley (@UCBerkeley) August 17, 2022
Christ adds that UC Berkeley’s plans for the space involve “the preservation of nearly two-thirds of the site as open green space; two housing facilities — one for students and one for extremely low-income members of the greater Berkeley community; the provision of housing, services and a new daytime center for unhoused people who previously gathered on the site and slept there.”
Today the Daily Cal gave an update on the state of things legally: A development opposition group called People’s Park Historic District Advocacy Group submitted a legal brief Monday identifying alternate spots where the 16-story project could otherwise be built. UC Berkeley has until today to submit their response as to why they feel these alternate sites are inadequate.
The legal wrangling will go on for at least two more months, if not lot longer. So a famous symbol of 1960s-era student activism is now again an activist hotspot, this time for 2020s-era NIMBY activism and YIMBY activism.
Related: More Bedlam in Berkeley, Protesters Retake People’s Park and Halt Construction After Park Was Fenced Off and Cleared [SFist]
Image: @maksim_ioffe via Twitter