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Indybay FeatureRelated Categories: East Bay | Education & Student Activism | Environment & Forest Defense | Health, Housing, and Public Services
People's Park Development Plan Headed to Regents For Approval
Despite continued public support for the preservation of People's Park, the administration of UC Berkeley will be submitting a development plan for the Park during the March meeting of the UC Regents. Most of the Park will be converted into housing. A sliver of open space will remain as a Memorial to Free Speech, as if to suggest the Free Speech is dead. The UC Berkeley Vice Chancellor told a Daily Cal reporter, “The next steps are being started. We’ll move as quickly as we can.” Along with People's Park, the UC plans to develop over an agricultural research field on Oxford St.
### The UC Regents will meet on March 15-16 at UCSF Mission Bay. During this meeting, the Regents will decide the fate of People's Park. ###
The majority of Berkeley city council has opposed the development of People's Park, including the former Mayor Tom Bates. A public meeting was held last year at city council chambers on the subject of the Telegraph Avenue area. During the meeting, support for People's Park was reaffirmed by a majority of city government and the public.
Community activists, and regular residents support the continuation of People's Park as a park, with no housing. The Park's 50th anniversary approaches in spring of 2019, during which it would be possible to have the space recognized as a California State Park. Under the State Parks system, People's Park can be preserved for its historic value. The land was the site of a 'grass roots' community uprising, a response to the US government's repression of the counter-culture. During this Age of Trump, People's Park can be a symbol of direct action against oppression.
During the 1969 conflict surrounding People's Park, student James Rector was shot in the stomach during the conflict; he passed away shortly after being fired upon. The city of Berkeley was indiscriminately tear-gassed during the protests by helicopters. Governor Ronald Reagan and the UC Regents, with the backing of the Nixon administration, turned the city of Berkeley into a battlefield.
In recent years the University of California has reignited conflict over the Park. In the past half-decade, the People's Park community advisory board was disbanded by the University, many of the Parks trees have been cut down and other landscaping features have been eliminated. UC Berkeley police has repeatedly intimidated participants in gardening efforts. Despite these tactics, the UC has been unable to clear out People's Park, due to ongoing community direct action.
On January 26th, the Daily Cal campus newspaper reported that People's Park is on a list of proposed development sites for UC student housing. The development plan will be submitted for approval at the next regents meeting, which is March 15th and 16th. UC Berkeley Vice Chancellor Carol Christ (a board member of Merrill Lynch) was quoted as saying "The next steps are being started. We’ll move as quickly as we can."
The UC is proposing to build a Memorial to Free Speech next to the housing project, as if to say that Free Speech is dead, a relic of the past. The need for more housing is a valid issue, but People's Park has historical and cultural significance which should not be erased. The UC has several other plots of land to use as alternative housing sites, parcels which are less contentious. Along with various sites the UC already holds administration over, the UC can also look into purchasing the under utilized seminary housing at Holy Hill, or contracting with developers at other sites in the city of Berkeley.
The UC will try to frame an argument for safety via a smear campaign against the Park and its supporters. The UC will try to draw attention to crime in relation to People's Park. However the majority of robberies and assaults on UC managed property have been occurring on the main campus, the northern side in particular, the furthermost away from People's Park.
The UC is ready to submit the development proposal to the board of regents in less than two months. The UC has signaled that not only is it prepared to build over People's Park, but also "next steps are being started". It is likely that the already existing police intimidation of dedicated activists will be increased shortly. The UC may start removing more plants soon, as the worst of the winter storms have ended, and a window of clearer weather will allow UC workers opportune working conditions.