People’s Park and Telegraph, inside out

peoplespark copy
Anjelica Colliard/Staff

In Mr. Peterson’s letter to the Daily Cal dated Feb. 3, 2012 (under the title “UC must transform People’s Park’s legacy”), I noticed that near the beginning of his letter he uses the phrase “Anecdotally we hear…” and then proceeds to make a number of other bold and untrue statements that have no citation or collaboration. And yet his tone suggests that he is citing known or established facts. Well, anecdotal is just that — hearsay.

I have served as a volunteer on the Community Advisory Board for a number of years. In addition, I have been a volunteer gardener in the park since 1997. I was on the board while MKThink was doing the research for their study, attended all of the work sessions and community meetings and was privy to their data and findings.

Curiously enough, Mr. Peterson mentions these documents but fails to emphasize that one of the overarching discoveries that MKThink made was that stakeholders across the community and campus overwhelmingly supported the idea of an open space and park. There were a number of recommendations in the report that even the much-maligned activists have been pushing for years, such as improving the drainage, paths, children’s play area and other aspects of the park.

Mr. Peterson claims that not a single recommendation from the report was made and says that it was because “It became apparent that the university continued to be too intimidated by threats from a small minority to make any of the changes recommended by its own consultants.” Unfortunately, I must take issue with this “anecdotal” statement and am surprised that the university also is not offended. The reason that none of the report’s recommendations were made is that, at that time, the university was going through drastic budget cuts and there were no funds available for any improvements to People’s Park.

Furthermore, several services to the Park had to be severely reduced, including landscaping, staffing and even garbage pick-up. In contrast to Mr. Peterson’s unfounded statements, all of these facts can be read in the minutes of the Advisory Board.

Speaking of that very same body, Mr. Peterson had this to say: “While the Advisory Board is not officially dis­banded, it is virtually defunct — it hasn’t met in many months.” Since it is the university that allows the People’s Park Advisory Board to even exist, who could remedy this problem? Perhaps some official will reactivate the Board.

Another fact Mr. Peterson fails to mention is that the Advisory Board has no power. We are, as the name says, simply advisory. The university can and does call the shots in the Park. As an historical aside, the Community Advisory Board grew out of the huge process in 1991 that took place after another of the university’s ideas to improve the park (sand volleyball courts) ended up costing millions to install, protect and finally remove. In addition, the measure incited some pretty serious riots that would make Occupy Oakland’s skirmishes look pale by comparison.

Mr. Peterson has used a broad brush to paint both the park and people who have done much to try and improve things as problems. If I were head of the Telegraph Business Improvement District, I would be taking a more realistic look at the causes of the decline of Telegraph.

There are at least four reasons for the district’s troubles.

The first was a series of poor business decisions — Cody’s and Andronico’s are no longer with us due to over-expansion as markets declined and failed to adjust to the times. The second was a failure to recognize the changing UC student demographic — what have business owners done to attract the current crop of UC students? The third cause was a spate of empty storefronts and blighted lots — why is it profitable for a property owner to keep a storefront vacant when they could have some smaller business bringing in revenue and foot traffic? Your TBID should lobby property owners, including Ken Sarachan, to eliminate the blight of empty and ugly vacancies. The final cause is the economy. The reason for declining sales is that more people have far less disposable income to spend on anything but the essentials. It could also be that they are losing their jobs or homes or both. Which, by the way, could also explain why there are more homeless on the streets.

In closing, I would encourage all Berkeleyans, university students, and visitors to go and see for yourself. Hang out in the Park, sense the history, read the social commentary. We have few safety nets, and many people have no access to health care or jobs. Did People’s Park cause that? Get to know what is really going on and, better yet, come make a difference. Come shoot some hoops, throw a Frisbee, have a picnic, pick up some litter and have fun.

Dana Merryday is a resident of South Berkeley.

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  • dan mcmullan

    It’s time for new business leadership in Berkeley. Roland Peterson has sopped up a ton of taxpayer and business money and perks running this scam on us all over and over. There are dozens of great ways to work on these problems and great people willing to do it. This lazy scapegoating and diversion is stale, weak and cowardly. I ask that we put this all behind us and work together for the GOOD of our entire community.

  • Adsahjh

    I have no desire to read ‘social commentary’ that justifies criminality, indolence, and anti-social behavior.

  • Cal Student

    I completely agree that the vacant lots on telegraph are a problem…but they aren’t the only problem – that argument distracts attention from the fact that People’s Park in its current incarnation has a very negative effect from those who live in the surrounding neighborhood. It has a history worth preserving but it needs to be cleaned up. It currently is not a safe or welcoming place to have a picnic or shoot some hoops. There is open drug use, sanitation issues and I have seen some pretty aggressive behavior by the people who live there. I don’t think you have to want to criminalize homelessness to recognize its not in anyone’s best interest to have a park owned by the University in the middle of town serve as an unpoliced open air homeless shelter. We need to provide services to the homeless…People’s Park is not an appropriate “safety net”. I hope that whatever changes are made are compassionate to those who live there and currently use the park…but as it is excludes uses by renters, homeowners and students and interferes with their enjoyment of the neighborhood and I hope that will be addressed as well. 

    • Dana_Merryday

      I was there today for 3 hours doing some gardening and saw no misbehavior, 6 to 10 Cal students shooting baskets, a beautiful singer serenading park guests, and a number of people just relaxing in the sun.   Again go for yourself in broad daylight and just watch.  I think you will see things differently.  Dana Merryday

  • Guest

    Dana Merryday is a resident of South Berkeley.

    Correction: Dana Merryday is an enabler of freeloaders.

  • Some student

    Why would I WANT to hang out in People’s Park? It’s disgusting, and I don’t want strangers bothering me.

    There is a difference between agreeing with activist’s desires, like better conditions and a playground, and endorsing their way of getting them.

  • Stan de SD

    “Curiously enough, Mr. Peterson mentions these documents but fails to
    emphasize that one of the overarching discoveries that MKThink made was
    that stakeholders across the community and campus overwhelmingly
    supported the idea of an open space and park.”

    Sure, almost everyone supports the idea of open space and a park. What they don’t support is a campground/safe haven for criminals, substance abusers, and transients. The vision that the militant left has for People’s Park is far different than what your typical  student, citizen, or business/property owner has in mind.

    • LAWLS

      But what can be done to keep those people out besides repeated use of police force? And they’d probably come back anyway…

      • Carlos

         Shoot them.

        • LAWLS

          Not cool

          • Guest

            Very cool.

          • Dustnlight

             what would you do without a safe haven?

      • Stan de SD

         So what’s wrong with “repeated use of police force”?

        • LAWLS

          It costs money?

          •  So does crime and welfare, and stupid ideas like taxpayer-funded sex-change operations and tuition for illegal aliens. Funny how liberals have no problem spending money for everything else, but only get budget conscious when it involves enforcing the law.

          • Arnoldmcpeebles

            It’s really too bad the the UC police force has nothing better to do than to be posting blogs on Daily Cal editorials.

      • Arnoldmcpeebles

        Yes, we really do need to be getting rid of the corrupt UC administration, but they keep on getting replaced by more dedicated toadies by the Regents… hmmm…

      • Muchpazsion

         these people have the right to be there….as long as they don’t break laws or cause trouble…

    • Arnoldmcpeebles

           Of course, this community does support criminals , just so long as they are wearing business suits, and raking millions in profits off of completely unneccessary construcion projects?

  • ShadrachSmith

    If you create a Mecca for free-loaders, lots of free-loaders will show up.

    You told them you love them…and they showed up.

    There are no questions about that part. The only open question is why would any sane person want to create a Mecca for free-loaders. If we can get past that question the second one looms, and it is, would you like to have one next door?