Chancellor’s Letter: Developing People’s Park

By Carol T. Christ

Even though college students and faculty rarely wear the long, black medieval gowns symbolic of their status, the term “town and gown” still denotes the relationship between a college or university and its local community. The quality of that relationship can vary over time, as it has here, when interests converge and diverge. Yet, our campus and neighboring communities all benefit when we are able to collaborate for the greater good. And that is exactly what we are now doing to address the paired, pressing challenges of housing and homelessness, on our campus and in our city.

The University of California at Berkeley and the city of Berkeley grew up together, synergistically bound from the beginning. The University was founded first, in 1866, when the trustees of the College of California decided to move from its site in downtown Oakland, which they felt had become too crowded and rowdy. In 1868, the University was chartered; and a decade later, in 1878, the town of Berkeley was incorporated. Our histories have been intertwined ever since. The University gives its character to the city, and the city is the home of the University, providing essential services along with an amazing array of recreational and cultural resources.

It’s critical for the University and the city to work collaboratively; we share a place, and we share many common interests and challenges—housing, traffic, public safety, the schools. Many students, faculty, and staff live in the city. Like many faculty, I’ve lived in Berkeley for decades. It is my home and a place I care deeply about, as a neighbor and a member of the University’s leadership.

Both the University and the city are currently suffering a housing crisis. The University has grown, and our booming economy is pushing up rents and housing prices as demand exceeds supply. Gone are the days when students could easily find cheap Berkeley apartments. Increasing numbers of students cannot find—or afford—Berkeley rentals; too many of them live in apartments that are too expensive, too far from campus, and too crowded.

The student housing crisis is a problem we must solve. I have therefore determined that Berkeley will double its housing capacity in ten years, adding approximately 7,500 beds. This goal will require our building on all of our available land, as outlined in the draft report of our housing task force, including locations that may generate controversy.

Yes, I am referring to People’s Park. Acquired by the University for student housing in 1967, the site was never developed, due to lack of funding. In 1969, activists seeking a new off-campus location for demonstrations and expression unfettered by University regulations were determined to change what had become a derelict lot full of rubble into a “people’s park.” Whatever one thinks of the ideals that motivated the creation of the park, it is hard to see the park today as embodying those ideals. It is equally hard to determine who the people are that benefit from the park in its current form. The space currently attracts about 40–50 members of the homeless community on a daily basis. Yet, even though the park is cleared every night, these people, some of the most marginalized in our community, tend to be the victims and not the perpetrators of serious crimes too often committed on the park’s grounds.

I believe that the University has a responsibility for the park, a responsibility to collaborate with the city in support of its homeless population, and a responsibility to address our students’ need for housing. With that in mind, I have decided that People’s Park will be the first University-owned parcel to be developed and revitalized as we embark on our new long-term effort to double the number of beds provided by the University. We are taking this first step in the park, for it is the only site that allows the campus to address student housing needs, relieve demand-side pressure on housing, address crime and safety concerns for the benefit of students and the community, revitalize a neighborhood, and offer improved safety and services for members of Berkeley’s homeless population.

We intend to provide about a quarter of the site to a nonprofit developer for the construction of what is known as “supportive housing” for the homeless, with 75–125 apartments and social services located at the site. The facility will be operated by an experienced nonprofit organization and fully funded by external sources that support facilities like these across the country. Our Schools of Social Welfare and Public Health will have programs there to help provide services to residents and training for our graduate students. Then, using the same sort of public/private partnership that developed the new David Blackwell Hall, we will also build a student residential facility that will provide between 700 and 1,000 new beds. That will leave more than enough room for safe and welcoming open space, as well as a physical memorialization of the park’s history and legacy.

There are many details to be worked out, but none of this would be possible absent an extraordinarily positive and constructive town-gown relationship. We are working closely with and enjoying the full support of the mayor and other elected officials, as well as leaders of civic, religious, and business organizations. Together, we can and will greatly improve upon a status quo that poorly serves the people who will now benefit from the park’s renovation, rehabilitation, and repurposing: the homeless, our students, neighbors, local businesses, and visitors to our campus and city.

From the Summer 2018 Our Town issue of California.
Filed under: Cal Culture
Image source: 2016 UC Regents
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Dear Chancellor, Building over Peoples Park into a development makes since with the housing crisis. Rents are high, even for dorms. I remember in 2007 when I started CAL almost all rooms were full, the SAT was made harder for the increased competition, and Marcus had finished the UC REIT. Professors at the school of social welfair and architecture, full time faculty, should be in charge of the project, not an outside developer. Private groups label outside academics as not able to accomplish developments as quick but this is not true. Academics have susccsfully built project with as many if not less financial incidence as established developers. Yes developers understand how to move groups through finance, or over homeworking students (not wrong-what CAL students singed up for), but academis should do the project. Having worked in South Central as a leasing agent during the recession for hundreds of low income housing units . No non-profit should run the project.
Dear Chancellor welcome to the East Bay which you obviously don’t Know it by your RIDICULOUS purposal Naive to the Fact we have kept the University Hands for 49 years and will continue until the University is Not. First the Legal question of Eminent Domaine which simply States that if the Property is NOT used for intended Purpose within 7 years it goes back to Original Owner (Ohlone People NOT Federally Recognized which is a Form of Ethnic Cleansing & is an International HATE Crime.) Secondly Global Warming one our Biggest issues we Face for even Survival. The Alarming Carbon Dioxide level now is 410 PPM w/ Survival 350 and Unfortunately the Trees needed for such a Project are needed to Stay in the Ground and help Fight our Carbon Excessive Behavior. Third the UC housing Fraud has come to Light by UC Inviting 9,000 too many Students (while Claiming of being Broke, Neopalontano Squirrelling away 175 Million Dollars) as you Know this cannot be done as the community needs to Know and be in on the Conversations on the Universities Intention of Expanding the Student Body plus other EIR (Environmental Impact Reports) are Required. This really does NOT go down smoothly Residents (high Rents, low Availibility) and the Dishonesty especially as the UC Regents supposedly have Privatized the State University so residents now Know ALL Moves by the Regents are for Their own Benefit NOT the Residents of California. Finally the Trees which have survived the 49 years of resistance to the Regents are Now have too much Value to the Community that have been protecting them . If Direct Action is Needed there are the Tree People which of Coarse you have heard of our Historic (648 Days) Tree-sit. Respectfully Indigenous Elder Zachary RunningWolf
It takes a lot of nerve to increase by thousands the number of students you admit to UCB (4000 from out of state) and then proclaim that you will “help” to ease the crisis by building on the one common area where poor people have even a semblance of community. UCB, take responsibility for your contribution to the housing crisis. STOP ADMITTING MORE STUDENTS and especially those from out of state. Lifelong residents of Berkeley are displaced due to rising rents and a competition for places to live that is made worse by your admissions policies. And how dare you act as though the poor people who visit the park are negligible. You say 40-50?! Have you BEEN there? You minimize and marginalize to justify the expansion and further gentrification of our city. The UC is a monster that is out of control and gobbling up even more of the open space in this city is further evidence that the UC has no concern for that actual city in which it resides or its people. The problems of the park are problems that relate to the failure of the city and UC to provide assistance and support to those whose needs are so obvious. For years, when the poor asked for bread, you sent cops. When they cried out for mental health services, you sent cops. When they explained that there is nowhere else to go, you sent cops. And then you have the nerve to blame them for their situation. If only my alma mater loved justice as much as it loves its prestige.
“It is equally hard to determine who the people are that benefit from the park in its current form. The space currently attracts about 40–50 members of the homeless community on a daily basis.” This is false. It’s fairly easy to see who benefits from that park, which continues to include quite a number of… U.C. students. And that is despite U.C.s remarkable, overt efforts to keep them out and away from there. Apparently, so your fabrication can be woven and sold. And where do you get that 40 - 50 homeless people daily number? Seriously inflated, although I wonder just how you might know who is homeless or not. Why does the U.C. have to perpetuate years of falsehoods, and pursue machinations and manipulations directly responsible for damage to the park and public image? No better real case to be made? The people of Berkeley deserve the truth.
Carol Christ, It is a grave mistake to build on People’s Park. People’s Park is a tar-baby, you can’t attack it without getting dirty. You speak of your commitment to inclusive community, diversity and history. People’s Park is currently the vehicle of that for many people. I beg you to look in your heart and understand that there are people less fortunate than you that also deserve the high principles you espouse. Perhaps they are unable to attend the fine classes at the University, but certainly they have the right to exist somewhere freely, in community and not in fear. People’s Park is the result of the University acting without heart and taking what was not rightfully theirs. The reclamation of the neighborhood by the community exposed the greed, fear and selfishness of those UC administrators. Building upon it would stir up powerful ghosts and place your name among those who are an enemy of The People. UCB exists in Berkeley. You cannot ignore the people and history of the rest of the city and expect the University to thrive. No, there are not enough beds for students. It is time for the University to take responsibility for keeping student population at a size that the campus and city can hold! For a healthy city we need the precious gifts People’s Park provides: open space, living plants that create oxygen, a place to gather in celebration or in emergencies, a place where everyone is welcome to sit their weary bones, a place of history and pride unique to Berkeley. There is not much of this left in Berkeley. The City and University made a pledge to keep People’s Park as Open Space, so desperately needed in such a congested neighborhood. Keep your pledge. Please let your principles and your caring extend to all people. Do Not build on People’s Park. Sincerely, Terri Compost
To Chancellor Christ August 2018 As the 50th anniversary of the first creation of People’s Park approaches it seems you have chosen to mark that anniversary by rolling out the same deception that Chancellor Heyns used in 1969. Let me be clear: Roger Heyns did not take the 30 to 35 homes that stood on lot 1875-2, now People’s Park, by eminent domain for the purpose of building student housing, or soccer fields, and neither is the need for student housing the reason you have declared your intention to build on that lot before any of the other pieces of land upon which the University could build. The evidence that Roger Heyns had other reasons for taking the homes of some 40 people with alarming haste and callousness is evident in the statements of faculty members, members of the Board of Regents, and the long time residents of those old homes. Professor Sim Vander Ryn, Chairman of the Chancellor’s Advisory Committee on Housing and Environment, stated “I have it on pretty good authority that this was the pitch … (Vice Chancellor)Cheit’s position before the Regent’s was: ‘Let’s clean up the park and get rid of the people living there who are a threat to the stability of the University’.” Regent Fred Dutton said that Heyns and Cheit had based their case for acquiring the South Campus property on the grounds that it was “… an act against the hippie culture.” That “hippie culture” was mentioned to many of the homeowners on lot 1875-2 by the real estate agents who were tasked with taking their homes. In your “Summer Letter” (“California”, Summer 2018) you also propose that building on People’s Park will include housing and services for the homeless of Berkeley. Well this is quite a change for the University. I have been a volunteer with East Bay Food Not Bombs for eighteen years and know that our daily meals for the hungry, which we serve in People’s Park have faced near constant opposition by the University. We couldn’t even get the University’s permission to allow Waste Management to come into the park to pick up our compost. Other homeless advocates have tried to distribute free clothing to those in need and time after time UCB police have destroyed those free clothing sites. So what might be the actual reasons that your mighty institution is so determined to destroy People’s Park? In 1969 South Campus was the home of the counter culture and its radical sociopolitical consciousness. For the preceeding decade the University had been locked in confrontation after confrontation with studdent groups that wanted the right to organize on campus (The Free Speech Movement), with students of color who wanted a Third World Studies College, and with students and faculty who opposed the war against Vietnam (The Vietnam Day Committee). UCB restricted and punished students for political organizing on campus; UCB poiice beat and jailed students on strike for the creation of a Third World Studies College; and UCB, while working to crush the anti-war movement on campus supported U.S. militarism in Vietnam and used its academic cover to further Department of Defense research. Perhaps it is time to recognize that the University of California at Berkeley was, historically, on the wrong side in each of these, above, issues and that is why the counter-culture was such a thorn in its side. Then, that very group challenged the University’s misuse of its power by appropriating the very land which the university had turned into a muddy parking lot by taking and demolishing people’s homes. The act of students, neighbors and faculty creating a beautiful park on that lot and insisting that they, the users of the land, exercise control over it began the movement for community control. Userdevelopment is the most fundamental legacy of People’s Park, and it continues to this day. People’s Park is a unique and beautiful refuge for many, especially those most abused and marginalized by our system. As Robert Scheer summarized the situation in Ramparts (August ’69) “The Berkeley crisis was never over whether the University would be able to stop one ‘People’s Park’ but rather over whether it would succeed in what had been a long-term strategy of eliminating the culture of protest by denying it its turf”. So, in this time where the right of dissent is threatened world wide, and the 50th anniversary of People’s Park approaches, we must remember that what Mr. Scheer refers to as the “Berkeley crisis” was marked by death and maiming, the arial tear gassing of the campus and swarths of the city, and the occupation of the City of Berkeley by the National Gurad for several weeks. Was that military attack launched on Berkeley to stop a park? Of course not, it was launched by the University of California and the State of California as a unified attempt to crush the independent, progressive political and social expression of students and citizens. Now, seeing the “Berkeley crisis” for what it was, progressive thinkers must insist on the intact preservation of People’s Park and the values for which it stands.
Does anyone know who owns the property on the corner or Telegraph and Haste? Is there a reason why that fenced property can’t be used instead for development? Could UCB sell People’s Park to the City of Berkeley and acquire that corner instead?
That property belongs to a local businessman that has specific plans to develop there. It’s taken years, but I believe current status is that it’s got the green light from the city and will be proceeding… any day now. The U.C. *did* offer to sell the park to the city some years ago, but the city declined. U.C. has at least 8 other locations available for building new housing, but for a long, long time they have wanted to reclaim that property. Historically, people in the community have resisted that successfully but as time’s gone by the overall number and extent of activism has dwindled
@Slum Jack, you clearly know the area. What would you like to see happen to the space or what alterations would you want to the Chancellor’s plan?
I happen to be one of the many persons that was involved in creating the park, so have that sense of personal history woven into it. I spent some decades living elsewhere before returning to Berkeley just before this millennium, but I made visits here. Over the years, I was disappointed to see some of the changes taking place, frankly, as U.C. incrementally reasserted itself, controlling, reducing and confining the people’s participation. And, especially, the outright damage U.C. has inflicted upon the park, and therefore our community, and in a number of ways and incidents while mounting its manipulative campaign to sully the park, maligning people whom use it, as a co-vandal with those destructive persons it postures to condemn and blame. At the same time, as I watched the people’s responses and changes of apparent involvement and use, I confess to disappointments there, as well. That park, to my mind, has been one of the earliest, most successful and longest standing ‘Occupies’ of all. And as initially created, it was a wonderful demonstration of spirited, creative collaboration, cooperation and grass-roots community curation. While some individuals continued in such roles remarkably for many years, an obvious decline in terms of responsibility and collective contribution became more neglect or abuse, instead Sometimes I hear people make bold assertions about what or who the park is supposedly “for” and/or just whom or what belongs there and I can only wonder when and how such ideas came to be. I was just a teenager fairly fresh up from the mean streets of LA, as what is now regarded a “homeless youth”, back in 1969. I came here because Berkeley’s general ambiance was comparatively so constructive, appealingly inclusive, colorful, smart and productive. And I was blithely ignorant and naive about much of the core ideology and politics the key founders/instigators of the park premised the enterprise. So my own role and narrative and commitment was according to a simpler basis: community will, solidarity and individual alignment. Personally, I’d prefer to see a revival and restoration of some of the elements and dynamics I recount here. I would love to have that park and the community resuscitated and more thematically and widely purposed in various ways, where many people play and work together and fulfill the freedoms and responsibilities of stewardship and source. That could also well justify the value of the place far beyond being merely a ‘green, open space’ some now advocate is the basic merit. I would rather see a building there which is a multi-activity center for learning, projects and community to gather together in an array of contexts, rather than just that little bunkered U.C. office for presence of ‘authority’ - and its disgusting travesty of ‘public restrooms’. More community gardens and horticultural experiments. Maybe a shop or two for fostering skills and maintaining or improving park features. I’d rather see U.C. genuinely encouraging and assisting the community in rising to such intentions and manifest works than undermining, sabotaging or preventing, to again only take from the community for more mere student housing and increased imposing clout of U.C. But my bottom line still is as it was - will of the community. For reasons passingly mentioned above, the park as it is now and has been for some time has become less and less defensible. I don’t really see much merit in mere continuity of the shabby relic ‘green open space’ purely in some kind of symbolic or commemorative capacity mainly honoring a distant, fading past. And I, for one, never wished to only foil the U.C. because ‘back in the day’ the stance was: the U.C. is owned by The People and for purposes to benefit The People and their community in which it is located. That much ought not be on contious or adversarial terms. So The People of The Community literally took the thing directly into their/our own hands. What had been homes of community people were taken from them, then resulted in a muddy, trashy block in the midst of the rest of the community so the community proactively solved the problem. Now it’s been a relatively few persons and U.C. that have turned the park into a retrograde weedy, muddy, trashy block of sorts. So I’ve been keenly watching and listening for what the community wills.