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

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