People's Park Dorms Proposed: Berkeley, CA, USA updates? FWD

Tom Boland (
Fri, 23 Apr 1999 22:03:07 -0700 (PDT)

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Does anyone have updates on the People's Park land use struggle in
Berkeley, CA?
FWD  San Francisco Chronicle - April 8, 1999 - Page A1


     UC chancellor suggests student housing for site

     Charles Burress, Chronicle Staff Writer

The chancellor of the University of California campus in Berkeley touched
one of the city's most sensitive nerves yesterday when he came out in
support of what many whisper but few dare to say -- student housing on
People's Park.

The surprising statement by Robert Berdahl provoked lively reaction in the
city just as activists are preparing a 30th anniversary celebration this
month of the embattled piece of land christened in 1969 as a potent symbol
of the anti-war movement and the counterculture.

His comments also represented an ironic summons to UC's long- slumbering
original plan for the park. The property became a battleground because it
was bought and cleared by the university in 1967 for campus housing, a plan
that was soon devoured by the maelstrom of anti-establishment protest.

Berdahl said in an interview that the UC-owned park is ``underutilized''
and considered ``unsafe'' by many in the community and that part of it
should be used to meet the housing crisis facing UC students. His comments
came two days after student demonstrators staged a sleep-in on his doorstep
to demand more housing.

``It is very, very controversial,'' said Berkeley Mayor Shirley Dean.
Saying she was ``taken aback'' by Berdahl's statement, she agreed that the
park has caused problems but said any such proposal would depend on the

Councilman Kriss Worthington, whose district includes People's Park,
criticized the chancellor for advancing ``divisive proposals'' and
predicted protests.

The head of the city's Parks and Recreation Commission, Lisa Stephens,
called the chancellor's suggestion ``foolish'' and a violation of a UC
pledge to keep the park as open space in exchange for being allowed to put
up more buildings elsewhere.

The president of Berkeley's Council of Neighborhood Associations, Martha
Jones, said she ``absolutely'' supports Berdahl's idea, provided that some
part of the site is preserved as a memorial to its history.

Berdahl said he would favor leaving part of the site as open space, and he
stressed that the university has no plans to put housing on the site. He
said he raised the issue because the community needs to keep an open mind
about the few sites available to meet the dire shortage of housing.

``It seems to me that if one is going to look at the whole issue, we
shouldn't have sacred cows that are taken off the table,'' he said.

Terri Compost, an organizer of the park anniversary activities on April 25,
called Berdahl's statement ``rather shocking'' and disputed his
characterization of the park as underutilized and unsafe.

``People's Park is needed as open space, not to mention the historic
significance it has for Berkeley and for the world,'' said Compost, who
serves on the quasi-official People's Park Community Advisory Board.

The 2.8-acre site, one of the nation's most famous domestic battlegrounds
of the Vietnam War era and sacred ground to many on the left, has been at
the center of a tug-of- war in the city for years. It is owned by the
university and leased by the city as a park under an arrangement that took
several difficult years to iron out.

Critics complain that it is infested with drug-dealing and crime and say a
small group of activists has used the threat of protests to paralyze city
policy. Its supporters say it remains a much-used community resource and
symbol that needs better understanding and services.

Berdahl said the idea of putting student housing on the site has been
mentioned to him privately on several recent occasions. Dean said a group
of students made a serious proposal on the idea about six years ago, and 10
years ago former Chancellor Ira Michael Heyman made a formal proposal to
build on two- thirds of the site but later agreed to leave it as a park for
at least five years.

But such ideas have run into resistance from those who still carry the
torch of the activists who seized control of the park in 1969 and began
using it as a community garden and free-speech forum. It was the center of
bloody clashes and now is among the best-known symbols of Berkeley's days
of protest.

There is much dispute over what the surrounding residents and the
businesses on nearby Telegraph Avenue think about it.

``The neighborhood people said we want a park,'' Worthington said. ``It's
the city's official position that we want it a park. That's the only open
space in the south-side area.'' He criticized UC for not building more
student housing on some of its land used for parking.

Berdahl said merchants are already pinched by a shortage of parking and
have pressured the city and UC not to reduce it further. He also noted that
a group of merchants and residents near the park have formed a Safe Streets
Now chapter that has threatened to sue UC because of drug-dealing and
unsafe conditions in the park.

Dean said in her ``heart of hearts'' she wants to see open space remain at
the site, although she did not rule out the possibility of developing part
of it.

``We have as a goal that this will be a park like any other park, and that
just hasn't happened,'' she said. ``And we've been working for years.''


April 30, 1969: University officials announce their plans to clear the park
to build an intramural playing field. Ultimately, the university says, it
wants the site for dormitories.

May 15, 1969: Some 3,000 protesters try to seize the 270-by- 450-foot plot
from the university, starting weeks of riots. Governor Ronald Reagan calls
out the National Guard, demonstrators are hit with tear gas released from
helicopters, one person is killed, one is blinded and 600 people are
arrested, 496 of them at once along Shattuck Avenue. The city is placed
under ``a state of extreme emergency'' as 2,000 National Guardsmen patrol
the streets.

1980s: Recession leads to a sharp rise in the number of homeless people,
many of whom congregate in the park. Neighborhood residents complain that
the area has become a magnet for drug dealers and other criminals.

June 25, 1991: Police have to clear the Berkeley City Council chambers of
unruly demonstrators as the council approves the university's plans to
build two volleyball courts at the park.

July 31, 1991: Dozens of people are arrested as demonstrators clash with
police in protest of the university's plans to build volleyball courts.
Another round of violent protests begins. Police use rubber bullets on the
demonstrators. Over the next 12 days, there are 140 more arrests. But the
volleyball courts are built.

Jan. 4, 1997: With an agreement from a diverse group of citizens, the
university begins removing the volleyball courts, which have been rarely
used over the years. The land is returned to its natural state of greenery.


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