UNITED STATES NEWS

UC Berkeley walls off People’s Park as it waits for court decision on student housing project

Jan 4, 2024, 2:36 PM

BERKELEY, Calif. (AP) — Police officers in riot gear removed activists from Berkeley’s People’s Park and crews began placing double-stacked shipping containers to wall off the historic park overnight Thursday as the University of California, Berkeley, waits for a court ruling it hopes will allow it to build much-needed student housing.

The project has been ensnared in a legal challenge that claims the university failed to study the potential noise issues caused by future residents and to consider alternative sites. The park has also been the scene in recent years of skirmishes between activists opposing the project and police trying to help clear it.

Authorities arrested seven people Thursday on misdemeanor trespassing charges, and two of them had additional charges of failure to disperse after they refused to leave the park, which is owned by UC Berkeley, university officials said in a statement. Those arrested were booked, cited and released, they said.

The university wants to use the park to build a housing complex that would accommodate about 1,100 UC Berkeley students and 125 formerly homeless people. Part of the park would be set aside to commemorate its significance in the civil rights movement, university officials have said.

The park was founded in 1969 as part of the free speech and civil rights movement when community organizers banded together to take back a site the state and university seized from mostly people of color under eminent domain. Since then, the gathering space has hosted free meals, community gardening, art projects, and has been used by homeless people.

Harvey Smith, president of the People’s Park Historic District Advocacy Group that is spearheading the legal fight for preservation, said the university wants to build in Berkeley’s densest neighborhood, where green spaces are rare. He said they also glossed over about a dozen other sites the university owns — including a one-story, earthquake-unsafe parking lot about a block away from the park — that could be used for the $312 million student housing project.

“We have this amazing history in Berkeley of fighting for free speech, civil rights, the antiwar movement, and People’s Park is one of the chief symbols of it and they want to destroy it,” Smith said.

Last February, a court ruled in favor of the advocacy group, and the university appealed the decision to the state Supreme Court, which has yet to rule on whether the university’s environmental review of the project is sufficient and whether all possible sites for the project were considered.

“Given that the existing legal issues will inevitably be resolved, we decided to take this necessary step now in order to minimize disruption for the public and our students when we are eventually cleared to resume construction,” UC Berkeley Chancellor Carol Christ said in a statement.

University officials said cordoning off the park with double-stacked shipping containers should take three or four days and will involve shutting down nearby streets. That would ensure it is blocked off before most students are back for the start of the spring semester Jan. 9.

In 2022, a group of protesters broke through an 8-foot (2-meter) chain fence erected around the site and faced off with police, who were standing guard as a construction crew began clearing the park of trees to make room for the housing project.

Christ said the project has strong support from students, community members, advocates for unhoused people, the elected leadership of the City of Berkeley, state lawmakers and Gov. Gavin Newsom.

In September, Newsom signed a new law that alters a key state environmental law to say that developers don’t need to consider noise from future residents as a form of environmental pollution. The new law aims to prevent lawsuits over noise concerns that may block universities from building new housing.

University officials said they would ask the Supreme Court to consider the new law in its ruling.

Rick Shahrazad, of Berkeley, joined dozens of people protesting Thursday about a block away from the park after police shut down access to it and blocked off several nearby streets.

“We see People’s Park as being one of the few places left where you could sit down on a bench. You could talk with your neighbors. There are trees, there are fruit trees,” he said.

“They should build housing and low-income housing elsewhere and leave the park alone. There’s only one People’s Park,” he added.

__

Rodriguez reported from San Francisco.

United States News

FILE - A map of a new proposed community in Solano County, Calif., is displayed during a news confe...

Associated Press

A billionaire-backed campaign for a new California city is off to a bumpy start

SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — After two false starts, the billionaires behind a plan to build an eco-friendly city from scratch are behind schedule and off to a bumpy start to put their proposal before California voters this November. Former Goldman Sachs trader Jan Sramek unveiled his closely guarded ballot initiative for the proposed community between […]

2 hours ago

FILE - Nevada Secretary of State Cisco Aguilar speaks before Gov. Joe Lombardo signs an election wo...

Associated Press

Nevada and other swing states need more poll workers. Can lawyers help fill the gap?

RENO, Nev. (AP) — With Nevada counties struggling to find poll workers in a pivotal election year, the top election official in the Western swing state is taking a page from his counterparts elsewhere and is asking the legal community to help fill the gap. Secretary of State Cisco Aguilar wants lawyers who volunteer at […]

2 hours ago

FILE - This combo image shows President Joe Biden, left, Jan. 5, 2024, and Republican presidential ...

Associated Press

What is Super Tuesday? Why it matters and what to watch

The biggest day of this year’s primary campaign is approaching as 15 states — plus American Samoa — vote in contests known as Super Tuesday. The elections are a crucial moment for President Joe Biden and former President Donald Trump, who are the overwhelming front-runners for the Democratic and Republican presidential nominations. As the day […]

2 hours ago

Associated Press

Firefighters seek to corral massive Texas wildfires before weekend of higher temperatures and winds

CANADIAN, Texas (AP) — The explosive growth of the second-largest wildfire in Texas history slowed as winds and temperatures dipped but the massive blaze was still untamed and threatening more death and destruction. The Smokehouse Fire is the largest of several major fires burning in the rural Panhandle section of the state. It has charred […]

3 hours ago

FILE - Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin speaks during a Pentagon press briefing at the Pentagon on Fe...

Associated Press

Defense chief on the defensive: Lawmakers to confront Austin on secret hospital stay

WASHINGTON (AP) — Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin will face Congress publicly for the first time Thursday to explain his failure to quickly notify the president and other senior leaders about his hospitalization last month for complications from prostate cancer surgery. He is expected to hear some sharp questions and criticism from members of the House […]

3 hours ago

Traffic enter and leave mid-town Manhattan via the Queensboro Bridge, Thursday, Feb. 8, 2024, in Ne...

Associated Press

NYC’s plan to ease gridlock and pump billions into mass transit? A $15 toll for Manhattan drivers

NEW YORK (AP) — Between bridge and tunnel tolls, parking fees and the ever-present risk of getting a traffic ticket, it can already cost a mint to drive into Manhattan. Is forking over another $15 for the privilege of driving into the most traffic-choked parts of the island enough to finally get more people out […]

3 hours ago

Sponsored Articles

...

Collins Comfort Masters

Here’s 1 way to ensure your family is drinking safe water

Water is maybe one of the most important resources in our lives, and especially if you have kids, you want them to have access to safe water.

...

Day & Night Air Conditioning, Heating and Plumbing

Day & Night is looking for the oldest AC in the Valley

Does your air conditioner make weird noises or a burning smell when it starts? If so, you may be due for an AC unit replacement.

...

Collins Comfort Masters

Avoid a potential emergency and get your home’s heating and furnace safety checked

With the weather getting colder throughout the Valley, the best time to make sure your heating is all up to date is now. 

UC Berkeley walls off People’s Park as it waits for court decision on student housing project