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People's Park Garden Removal Likely, Park to Under-Go "Maintainance" Over Winter Break
On the evening of Tuesday, November 27th, a proposal was introduced to the city council regarding the future of the Telegraph Avenue area. While some controversy was expected, the coalition between the UC and business/property owners explained a vision for People's Park which went further than anticipated. Included in the development plan put forth, is the removal of the People's Park garden on the west end of the Park. That strip is being view as possible seating for Remy's restaurant, Cafe Med and any other local establishment that would wish to use the space. As well, instead of redoing the Park office so it can be a more social building, there are possible plans to instead add a second building in the Park.
During Winter Break of 2011, the UC cleared two berms in the western edges of the park, removing trees in the process. As well, there were intrusive alterations made to the plants in the interior of the westerns end of the park. During Spring of this year more tree were removed from the western side of the Park. This winter break, more alterations are planned for the Park, despite community insistence that public forums held for input into the decision making process. It is expected that the UC's continuing process of clearing out the western side of the park will be the focus of this winters work, heading towards the goal of clearing out the space for private food/beverage business. The UC's handling of the Park has been a slow, drawn out removal of plants, instead of a more pronounced degradations to the space. The UC has greatly reduced the density of plants in the Park over the course of the past year, because it was done a little at a time, in unannounced, early morning sessions spaced months apart.
There are two guiding principles for the changes to be made to Telegraph Avenue and the People's Park area. First is that the strip from Dwight to Bancroft will be managed like a shopping center, a quasi-privatized outdoor mall. The privately run Telegraph Business Improvement District will have an increased authority over lighting, street renovations, and decision making regarding police with less intervention from city government or public input.
The second guiding principal is that from Dwight to Bancroft, Telegraph is to be a corridor to the UC, as opposed to being its own distinct district from the UC. The changes to the Telegraph area and People's Park are in conjunction with the UC campus redevelopment project, which begins in February, at Lower Sproul and Eshleman Hall. In its redevelopment budget, UC Berkeley has funds for redesigned sidewalks, light-fixtures, etc on city commons. It is proposed that the UC use some of the vacancies on Telegraph Avenue, increasing their footprint on the Avenue.
The completion date of the reconfiguration the neighborhood stretching from Dwight to the university is a little over 2 years (2015). But there will be aspects of this redevelopment plan which can be completed far sooner than others, such as alterations to the parkscape (clearing more plants), and using increased police patrols to manage park users and the social atmosphere in the general area.
Along with re-purposing the western edge of the park for cafe/restaurant seating, there is a proposal to reduce the amount of open space by adding a second building (40 ft in length, width unspecified) on the park lot. The building is to be a museum, and is also to provide support services for the homeless. The intention of providing outreach and resources has broad support, but the placement of the building is clearly intentionally controversial. The Park is not large enough to hold a second footprint of a structure, without it being intrusive. The population of the neighborhood is growing, but the amount of open space is not. There already exists a Park office, which could be modified or replaced to meet the needs of the Park. There are many vacancies in the area which can be used. There is space at the old CIL building on Telegraph which can be used for community services and a museum. Reinvigorating the CIL building into a multi-use resource support and cultural/historical center would help strengthen the avenue. The CIL building is closer to bus-stops, has some parking, and has a garden area which could be re-opened to the public.
The presentation given to the public and city government was a pronouncement, not a conversation or invitation for contribution. The coalition between the UC and the property owners/TBID have their intentions, as well as the money and resources needed to see those intentions through. The UC-Telegraph corridor plan has already in a way begun, with the Maximo Martinez commons and the respective changes the Park underwent over the past year.
With semester ending in two weeks, it is hoped that there is enough support for the Park to prevent further damage to the space over winter break. While it is understood that the space is organic and subject to change, that process should not be guided a small coalition of property owners and UC officials. Nor should that process reduce the amount of open space in the park, or seek to restrict use of portions of the park to benefit businesses. Increasing park usage and park improvement should be an open process, guided by building on the experiences People's Park can offer as an open space: gardening, food, sports, music, time spent alone or social gathering, spoken word/poetry, or a space for photography and other visual arts.
One of the concepts behind the development plan: managing Telegraph as a shopping center
Telegraph Avenue from Dwight to Bancroft is to be a corridor to the UC, with projects from People's Park up through Telegraph to a remodeled Lower Sproul and new Eschleman Hall.