Contention resurfaces with People’s Park maintenance project

People's Park, 1/22/11
Michael Gethers/Staff

A barrage of criticism was flung at UC Berkeley in late December, but, unlike that of past months, the controversy was not about Occupy Cal demonstrations or tuition hikes. This time, the complaints came from a far more familiar source.

After the campus began a maintenance project at People’s Park on Dec. 28, a long history of contention between UC Berkeley and the park returned to the spotlight.

The campus said the project’s purpose was to “provide students and the broader community with safer, more sanitary conditions,” in part by reducing the park’s rat population, according to a Dec. 28 campus press release.

However, the move drew fierce complaints from park activists.

The release said the project — which is ongoing — would not change the overall look of the park, leaving the park’s stage, community gardens and benches intact. But according to Terri Compost, an activist and gardener at the park, the work crews leveled structures that were historically significant for the park community, such as a pergola that volunteers put together after the campus installed a volleyball court in the park in 1991 that resulted in a span of riots and protests led by park activists.

Christine Shaff, communications director of the campus Facilities Services Department, said the campus sees the work as maintenance for the sake of safety and improving visibility in the park.

The contention surrounding the maintenance project is reflective of a broader conflict over control of the park between the campus and park activists, who believe the park ought to retain the egalitarian reputation it gained during the 1960s.

“The park is such an anomaly,” said UC Berkeley alumna and past park activist Carol Denney. “(The campus) tolerated a few days of tents and protests on campus but are as intolerant as you can imagine of People’s Park.”

Denney called the campus’s policy toward the park “overkill,” particularly in light of the recent Occupy movement.

Still, it is unclear exactly how the campus’s experience with the park has affected its attitude toward Occupy Cal, which was prevented from setting up permanent encampments.

“Our experience with these encampments is that they are never temporary,” UC Berkeley Associate Vice Chancellor for Public Affairs Claire Holmes told The New York Times in November. “We’ve had a long-term encampment at People’s Park for 43 years.”

The persistent tension could stem from a fundamental difference in the way the campus and park activists view the park’s ownership.

“In reality, it’s obviously a public park, and dealing with it as private property is totally inappropriate,” said longtime People’s Park volunteer Arthur Fonseca.

Shaff said the construction of the Anna Head residence hall directly across the street contributed to the need for maintenance at the park. But the construction of the new dormitory and plans to renovate buildings on Haste Street for student use have also drawn concern from park occupants who say the new building will mean more police presence in the park, which is currently patrolled by officers from UCPD.

Beyond the issue of maintenance itself, according to Fonseca, the sudden arrival of the work crews also upset many park-goers because they did not receive notice from the campus about the project ahead of time.

Jim Reagan, a member of the People’s Park Community Advisory Board — which advises UC Berkeley regarding the park’s programs and policies — said there was no notice from the campus about the work prior to the arrival of the work crews.

Over the course of the project, a flier from the campus was distributed through the park explaining the project and emphasizing that the overall look of the park would not be changed by the maintenance.

“I understand there are people upset, and we’re communicating with them,” Shaff said.

Annie Sciacca covers city government.

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  • ronj1955

    Typical UC arrogance. It’s not like they couldn’t contact the park people. It’s like they didn’t want to.

  • Steve H.

    Where do you go to look if your car is stolen? People’s Park. Where do you go to look for drugs in Berkeley? People’s Park. Please clean up more than just the views – lets make it a park the community is not afraid to use and by community, I mean the people that live around the park, not just in it.

  •      The article says
    “over the course of the project a flier from the campus was distributed
    through the park explaining the project and emphasizing that the overall look
    of the park would not be changed by the maintenance”. This is  inaccurate. 

        I was present during the
    bulldozing of the Park on December 28, 2011. There was one student who had a
    flier she was passing out explaining the project. The University was under a
    contractual and ethical obligation to notify the Peoples Park Advisory
    Committee prior to do anything like this in the Park. They violated their
    agreement on December 28, 2011. Moreover, a police offcer
    present on the scene said, the reason the University decided to bulldoze that
    day and time is, they knew all the students were out on break, Occupy Berkeley
    had been dismantled and the activists were out of town for the holiday. This
    way they could do what they wanted without having to notify, consult or
    confront anyone and destroy a highly valued portion of the Park.

         The top of the Pergola
    was sawed off and the Council Grove was destroyed. These are delicate
    historical landmarks within the Park that can never be replaced and are
    priceless. Most of the trees, bushes and plants were ripped out of the ground
    and carried off by the work crews hired by the University as human vultures
    looked on smiling at each other in approval. This inhuman carnage were licking
    their chops laughing among themselves delighted with their accomplishments of
    destroying defenseless vegetation and history. They are the people who should
    pay the millions of dollars to replace what they surreptitiously annihilated.

  • @Mason H  There are 4.5 million people who are homeless in the United States. Of that number 1.6 million are children, at least 67,000 are veterans and 350,000 are families. California ranks 5th highest in the nation for homeless children. The children and the families are not trying to steal from you. They are trying to survive.
     
         Wh do you want to kick out of the park, the children, the families, the veterans, the disabled, the senior citizens? You choose.
     
         In your mind, is land and property more important than a child?
     
    Take those statistics and  start yelling at the right people…the politicians,. the police, the government and the 1% who are not doing anything to help their own people.

    • Wh do you want to kick out of the park, the children, the families, the
      veterans, the disabled, the senior citizens? You choose.

      The park is a refuge for criminals and substance abusers, not the “homeless”.

  • @Mason H  There are 4.5 million people who are homeless in the United States. Of that number 1.6 million are children, at least 67,000 are veterans and 350,000 are families. California ranks 5th highest in the nation for homeless children. The children and the families are not trying to steal from you. They are trying to survive.
     
         Wh do you want to kick out of the park, the children, the families, the veterans, the disabled, the senior citizens? You choose.
     
         In your mind, is land and property more important than a child?
     
    Take those statistics and  start yelling at the right people…the politicians,. the police, the government and the 1% who are not doing anything to help their own people.

    • Mason H

      @fb8e0597b2a5f4aed29998cf36af0c90:disqus  Arwen I walk by People’s park twice a day once to school and once back home. I can assure you I’ve never seen a homeless child living in people’s park. Though I admit I don’t consider a 16 year old a child much less a 17-20 year old who chooses to sit on the ground all day smoking pot instead of getting a job. I’m a full time student plus I work 18 hours a week to help support my expenses. Everyday I see ad’s both on craigslist and in store windows looking for help to fill the high turnover rates among young working class workers.  
      Furthermore shutting down one park doesn’t effect nationwide homeless rates at all. Berkeley already has one of the strongest social safety nets in the nation. Why can’t these homeless take up residence in the albany bowl? The exercise everyday from their pan handling locations to their camps might do them some good. 

      In reality it’s inevitable that the park will be closed as pressure from the surrounding community and increasing tuition makes students less willing to accept the city’s inability to take a hard line on the homeless issue. 

  • Mason H

    As a student I would like to see the homeless driven out of the park. Not under the foolish idea that it will lessen the number of destitute within the city during business hours but under the understanding that removing the homeless from the city during the night will dramatically lower the rate of crime especially petty theft. Right next to people’s park (within two blocks) resides the majority of the student population living “on campus”. This population is predominantly freshmen and greek house members of the community. Having gone to my share of parties I’d prefer walk home in a neighborhood with less homeless and hard drug users. Lefties who argue the park is a symbol of berkeley’s commitment to community. Should open their eyes and realize that support of the camps in people’s park poses a public safety hazard through the spread of disease, infestations of vermin, and generally diminishes the value of the surrounding neighborhood. 

    • ronj1955

      Maybe the students could be “driven” out of the dorms? This is just plain middle class fear. Look at the keywords–value, less homeless…..you can’t get rid of people who have as mcu right to exist as you. It ain’t the Third reich.

  • alumnus

    I have a great idea:  UCB happens to have one of the most amazing collections of artifacts belonging to the museum of anthropology, which are housed in offsite locations throughout the Bay Area.  It is said that this collection rivals the Smithsonian.  What about building a world class museum of anthropology on the current site of People’s Park (what better way to honor “people’s” park than to have a museum dedicated to the study of being human?) to share all of these treasures with the public?    Yeah?  I know funding is an issue, but I’ll bet the Gates or the  Mellon foundation would be game.    Just throwing it out there.  

    • David

      Bravo

  • Southside Student

    “But the construction of the new dormitory and plans to renovate
    buildings on Haste Street for student use have also drawn concern from
    park occupants who say the new building will mean more police presence
    in the park, which is currently patrolled by officers from UCPD.”

    How awful, just two days after a student was a victim of armed robbery at the corner of Hillegass & Dwight (on the edge of People’s Park). A greater police presence is just what People’s Park and Southside need.

  • Current student

    I really wish UC would pave the park and build a new parking structure.  That would have two benefits: increasing business at Telegraph merchants and driving out the leftist whiners.

    • Concerned Cal Parent

      I couldn’t agree with you more.  People’s Park represents the rotten core of Berkeley.  It’s time for someone to have the guts to stand up and clean Berkeley up, starting with People’s Park.
      And before you dismiss me as a right wing troll… I went to Berkeley schools as a kid, I drive around the heart of Orange County with an Obama sticker on my car, and my child currently attends Cal.

  • Gurest

    When you are afraid that the result of actions by the University (building dorms) means more police presence in the park, then you are up to illegal stuff and I have no pity for you.

    • crusty

      police these days hassle the innocent as well as the guilty.they are like an occupying army much like in iraq,afghanistan,and palestine.no friends of ours are they!

      • Grow up, take a bath, and get a job.

      • M.

        false.

      • Guest Who

        Crusty, it’s obvious both from your comments and namesake that you are a clown. Do us all a favor and wear a Star of David when you cross into Gaza and see how your Foul-Asstinian pals treat you.

      •  Oh, it’s you again, posting the same nonsense…

  • The only “contention” is from the usual motley collection of hard-core lefties, geriatric hippie holdovers, druggies, alkies, professional panhandlers, and nose-ringed street urchin wannabes who bag for cash and pizza slices during the day, then take the last BART train to Orinda so they can sleep in a warm bed and hit up Mommy and Daddy for more cash. Any same, rational city would have cleared the property and cited these perps for trespassing. These losers aren’t doing ANYTHING to benefit students OR the working people of Berkeley. Give ’em the boot and send ’em packing…

    • Guest

      Said the bank about your foreclosed home maybe…

      • Never had a foreclosed home, child. Unlike the dummies who thought they could retire on the value of their house because “they always go up, right?”, I saw the folly of that way of thinking. I would never buy more than I could afford, because I see a home as a place to sleep, not as an “investment”.

        • Dats A Troll

          since there’s no way to verify what you say is true, it might as well all be considered as lies

          Trolly M fails hard, once again.

          • So what do you think I’m lying about? You think I have a foreclosed home? Or is this your way of derailing the discussion because you don’t have a valid point to make?

          • M.

            Dats a Troll, 
            I trust that you realize how ridiculous and juvenile your logic is, or I’d be pretty concerned.

  • crustyrusty

    maybe time for the peoples park defense union to arise again.

    • Guest Who

      And do what? Take their usual dumps in the park or assault a student or some poor passer-by? 

      UC should build something constructive on this abomination (to call it a “park” is a bad joke). And the bums who harass our community should be shipped out of Berkeley along with Councilman Kris Worthington (now there’s a real “Crusty”).