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Indybay FeatureRelated Categories: East Bay | Environment & Forest Defense | Health, Housing, and Public Services
Berkeley mayor & UC Chancellor agree to end People's Park
According to Berkeleyside (a local source for business and real-estate news), Berkeley's new mayor Jesse Arreguin "is enthusiastic about the plans" to develop housing on People's Park. The mayor has been meeting in private with UC Berkeley's new chancellor Carol Christ.
This is a crucial time to defend People's Park, through occupy tactics, and other methods of public support.
The new mayor and the new chancellor are in agreement: People's Park must end.
Over the past academic year, public outcry prevented the UC from cutting down more trees in People's Park. Public input succeeded in slowing down the UC's plan for development. Chancellor Nick Dirks wanted to destroy People's Park, but he was met with resolute resistance. The new Chancellor, Carol Christ, has declared that she intends to finish what Dirks started. UC Berkeley's public relations director told Berkeleyside that developing People's Park is "a legacy issue".
As part of an agreement between the mayor and the UC, the Telegraph Avenue street ambassadors will be given authorization to patrol People's Park, to clear out undesirables. The Berkeley street ambassadors have a history of violence against the poor, and a history of taking personal possessions from the homeless. (In years past, the ambassadors have stayed out of the park, keeping to Telegraph Avenue.) The city and the UC have also hired a "social worker" who's job will be to talk people into leaving the park without force. During the upcoming academic year, the mayor and the UC plan to whittle away the People's Park community.
The development plan includes 2 large buildings: a unit for student housing and allegedly a unit to house the homeless. Increasing housing is a noble cause; however, the city of Berkeley has a shortage of truly public open space. Over the past few years, city government and developers have been promoting smaller private spaces such as private rooftop gardens, private beer gardens, and other similar exclusionary (customers only) and confined spaces. As the population of Berkeley increases, maintaining parks becomes ever more necessary. Larger spaces, such as People's Park, allow for diverse mingling, a concert venue, a place to share food, a place to move around in with a sense of freedom.
Student housing can be increased within the footprint of the main campus area. There are large glade areas on campus which hold no particular historical and social significance. Construction on the main campus would result in tearing up of grass, while construction on People's Park would result in the tearing up of large trees and gardens. The UC also has a substantially sized property on Dwight Way adjacent to Hillside Avenue and Fernwald Road, which could be used for housing development.
There are vacant buildings and empty lots all over Berkeley, People's Park is not the only option for housing the homeless. The homeless population of People's Park was never surveyed for their interest in housing in People's Park. The development plan is being drafted on their behalf, but it is being done without their participation. The homeless community (which includes long term homeless, recently homeless, and travelers) has historically been opposed to development on that land. If the homeless wanted a housing structure in People's Park, they would have demanded one. The homeless population and park advocates have been fighting development on that space for years: accumulating citations, stay-away orders, and jail time. Those in the park community do want more housing somewhere, but don't want the park to be sacrificed for a home when there are other viable options to explore.
Arreguin told Berkeleyside "we have to have a community process”, yet there has been no effort to draw in the community. When Arreguin ran for mayor, he gave no indication that developing housing on People's Park was part of his agenda - a lie of omission. In the 6 months Arreguin has been mayor, there have been no public meetings about People's Park. Until now, Arreguin never gave any indication that he had been meeting with chancellor Christ about People's Park. All the mayor's discussions have been in private between business interests and the UC.
Arreguin is not alone in dealing with the chancellor. Yesterday, on the social media platform Twitter, council member Droste announced that she had met with Carol Christ about developing People's Park. Droste released a photo with her arm around Christ, stating: "Great talking with Chancellor Christ. She is deeply concerned about...Peoples Park".
On June 12th, a memo circulated from the chancellors office on the subject of a Housing Master Plan Advisory Group. When the memo was issued, it gave no mention of People's Park. The task force has made no effort to interact with the People's Park community. This task force has made no effort to hold a public meeting. It is empowered to make recommendations with no public input.
The city could work with the People's Park community to find alternative sites for sheltering the poor. The UC could re-evaluate other sites for student housing. The city and the UC could allocate funds for a social worker to help with mental health issues, conflict mediation and harm-reduction (pertaining to drug abuse). Instead of increasing funding to the street ambassador program, money could be allocated to hiring gardeners.
The UC is aware that there is strong public support for People's Park. Without public support, the UC would have cleared out all the trees by now. The UC and the mayor are pushing back, trying to create an exaggerated narrative that People's Park must end. The movement to defend People's Park has been successful over the past year. Resistance against the development plans must continue and must increase as the elite powers in Berkeley try to reinvigorate their agenda. Resistance had frozen the development plan, but now resistance must continue to totally end the development deal.