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Indybay Feature
The UC Berkeley Chancellor is Lying About People's Park
by In Defense of People's Park
Monday Feb 22nd, 2021 10:17 PM
UC Chancellor Carol Christ is lying to you about People's Park.
Share this article on social media with the hashtag: #SavePeoplesPark

Support People's Park by sending a message.
Email the UC Chancellor: chancellor [at] berkeley.edu
Call the Chancellor: (510) 642-7464
The latest press release from UC Chancellor Carol Christ is titled 'An update from Chancellor Christ on two UC Berkeley student housing projects'. In the second part of the memo, the Chancellor justifies the eviction of low income renters from an apartment complex that was purchased by the UC. In the first part of the memo, Carol Christ rants about People's Park to justify the development project planned for the site.

Carol Christ claims that a dorm must be built on People's Park to meet "the needs of 1,000 students". This is untrue in two ways. The dorm is only estimated to house ~200 students, not thousands. There are other sites on UC property that can hold a dorm for ~200 students. It is not a necessity to build this dorm in People's Park. It could be built literally one block north, adjacent to the dorm already standing across the street.

Carl Christ wrote that People's Park is only used by "45-50 people" on a daily basis. This is a lie. People's Park is visited by hundreds of People daily. Some people visit the park for hours, some for minutes, some pass through the park as they are walking or biking to some destination.

The next lie is a lie of omission. Carol Christ spends several paragraphs referring to People's Park as a homeless camp. While it is true that homeless people use People's Park, they are not the only people who use People's Park. The students who frequent the basketball courts aren't homeless. Many of the people who show up for Food Not Bombs aren't homeless. The people who tend the garden aren't homeless. Statistically speaking, most people who visit People's Park are not homeless. People's Park is not a homeless camp. It is a park where homeless people are welcome as social equals. There's a big difference. People's Park has a community garden, and a performance stage. It has a full length basketball court. There is an open, flat field for casual recreation. The imagery Carol Christ conjures up in her statement does not reflect the fullness of what People's Park is.

Currently, there is a tent encampment on site. Many of the tents are protesters, putting themselves in the park they want to save. They are mostly students and other community members. Many of these tents would go away if the UC cancelled the development project. Other tents are up to house homeless people who can't find shelter due to Covid. Mayor Jesse Arreguin failed to organize Project Roomkey hotel rooms in Berkeley. Compounding the crisis, homeless shelters can't fit as many people due to Covid physical distancing restrictions.

Carol Christ claims "the campus spends over a quarter million dollars a year to keep People’s Park and its facilities clean, including maintaining a public restroom". Christ offers no receipts on the budgetary claim. People's Park is a 2.8 acre park right off a busy thoroughfare, Telegraph Avenue. There are obvious costs associated with garbage pickup, lawn care, water, power, salary for the part-time, Park manager, etc. Is it really $250,000 a year? If true, is it a high number for an urban park that size? There's no break down of expenditure offered in the Christ's latest press release.

At the start of the pandemic, the UC stopped cleaning the restroom facility. As COVID-19 started spreading through Berkeley, the UC totally abandoned the People's Park restroom, leaving community activists to clean the restroom themselves. Even before the pandemic, the restroom was not as frequently cleaned as other campus restrooms. Since the pandemic, community members have been buying soap and toilet paper for people to use, as well as the sanitation solution to clean the restrooms.

Carol Christ has claimed that "every week" the UC meets with "city and civic leaders to coordinate and improve efforts to meet the needs of unhoused people". The UC disbanded the People's Park community relations board several years ago, when Robert Birgeneau was Chancellor. The UC claimed it was a temporary decision, and that the committee would return in a new form. Two Chancellors later, the committee has still not been reinstated.
The UC has not at all been meeting with People's Park organizers and volunteer gardeners. Nor does the UC meet with leaders in the homeless community. They only meet with local politicians and the Telegraph Business Association (which is actually a landlord association, not a small business association).

There's a dichotomy in the Chancellor's messaging. On one hand she wants to depict herself as caring about the homeless. On the other hand, they are depicted as the villains in the People's Park saga, and she won't talk to them.

Carol Christ pats herself on the back for hiring one social worker to walk the park. This person was only hired in 2018, as the UC was formulating to develop People's Park. This social worker was therefore conditional, not a gesture of genuine charity. Prior to the development plan, the UC refused to help with social work. Christ congratulates herself for ordering a sharps container for People's Park. This again was something that should have been done well over a decade ago, but was only considered as a PR move when the UC was developing the dorm plan.

The Chancellor refers to People's Park as a "locus of extensive criminal activity". The UC and city crime statistics don't show People's Park as being more dangerous than other areas of the city. There is crime, including violent crime, on the main campus proper. There is crime, including violent crime, in the area known as frat row. There is crime, including violent crime, downtown. Christ doesn't explain how building a dorm is going to stop crime. If the area of People's Park is so dangerous, wouldn't it be irresponsible to have students live there? Wouldn't criminals prey on the students? How is a building going to stop crime? If the building will stop crime, couldn't it stop crime is placed across the street one block north? The Chancellor's argument isn't solid.

Carol Christ didn't care about crime when a UC Berkeley police officer sexually assaulted a member of the People's Park community in 2019. This incident occurred during an Occupy protest. A 30-something community gardener from the Cherokee Nation was sexually assaulted by Officer Sean Aranas. The UC admnistration tried to cover it up.

Carol Christ has refused public debate. She has refused to meet with park activists and advocates. Carol hides behind press releases, because she cannot be directly challenged like she could be in an open public forum.

There hasn't been the slightest attempt to negotiate public features of the site if the dorm is constructed. There is no plan create a new community garden anywhere on the site, or any other UC site. There is no plan for a basketball court in the development blueprints. There is no future plan for a performance stage for concerts. Much of the open space is paved. The green areas are not open for public use. The UC admits this in the official video of the project: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3mmIaFNAdeQ. The planted areas are landscaped to deter public use. Even the central "glade" is an ornamental landscaped feature to be filled with plants like New Zealand flax to keep people from sitting and congregating.

The supportive housing feature is not guaranteed. It is dependent on funding and other conditions. The UC can back out of the development of the supportive housing if they feel it won't meld with the dorm plan. There's also no reason why the dorm couldn't be built across the street, and the supportive housing be the prominent feature in People's Park. This would preserve more of the open space. Again, there is a lack of debate on this this issue.

After their third town hall, it was stated there would be more community meetings. There were none. Even the official project video says that there would be more opportunities to discuss the proposal: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3mmIaFNAdeQ The third town hall was called "the beginning of the design process" in the narration of the video. Yet, the third town hall was the final public meeting. The UC even disabled the comments for the proposal video. The UC is done talking to the public, which is why there is a protest in People's Park.

UC Chancellor Carol Christ is lying to you about People's Park.
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