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.