People’s Park among targeted sites for UC Berkeley student housing

Daniel Kim/Staff

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As the campus struggles to house an influx of students, UC Berkeley’s housing task force has drawn up nine potential locations for new student housing — including People’s Park, the site of the historic “Bloody Thursday” protest and clash in 1969.

The task force, established by Chancellor Nicholas Dirks in June, noted the necessary construction and relocation required to build on each of the nine locations. The report comes a year after UC President Janet Napolitano’s announcement of the President’s Student Housing Initiative, which set a goal to create 14,000 additional beds across the UC system by 2020.

“We’re presenting this plan to the regents in March,” said interim Executive Vice Chancellor and Provost Carol Christ. “In this period, we’re trying to get campus feedback. The pressure from the UC to increase enrollment will keep going up. … That makes planning for housing even more critical.”

Locations slated for the earliest development under the plan include sites at Channing Way and Ellsworth Street, and the Oxford Tract. If realized, the two developments alone would house 200 to 400 and 1,000 to 3,000 new beds, respectively.

Undergraduate enrollment at UC Berkeley increased by 750 students in fall 2015, part of a three-year plan to increase UC enrollment by 10,000 in-state students systemwide.

Christ said the proposed Channing Way and Oxford Tract developments likely will not be move-in ready until the 2020s. Although the timeline for completing the developments is still uncertain, Christ said she would like to see all nine completed, including the planned site at the location of the university-owned People’s Park.

Other locations slated for construction include Oxford Street and Bancroft Way, a densified Unit 3, the upper Hearst Street parking garage, Albany Village, the Smyth-Fernwald parcel and Richmond Field Station, the former intended site of the now-defunct Berkeley Global Campus.

The task force also assessed progress with the housing goals laid out in the campus’s Long Range Development Plan, or LRDP, which was published in 2005 and had a target completion year of 2020. Among them was an eventual two-year housing guarantee for incoming freshmen — an objective the task force still aims to achieve, though freshmen currently are guaranteed one year of housing.

“It’s too early to say (whether we can accomplish all the goals by 2020),” Christ said.I would be making a statement based on knowledge I don’t have. The task force was appointed in the fall. I pushed them to finish by Christmas, and they did.”

To begin alleviating UC Berkeley’s housing crisis, the task force plans to prioritize housing for new undergraduates. Christ said that such a campus-led initiative could help take pressure off the city of Berkeley’s housing market, in turn making it easier to secure housing for other student populations, such as graduate students.

“Strategically developing Cal’s property could also help alleviate the campus’ budget crisis,” said campus city and regional planning professor Jason Corburn in an email. “At the same time, the campus must continue to be a good neighbor and develop its property consistent with the needs of the broader community — meaning the City of Berkeley’s land use plans and strategic development needs.”

The only new housing built since the LRDP was released in 2005 is Maximino Martinez Commons — completed in 2012 — though the commons were not included in the 2005 LRDP. Stephen Sutton, interim vice chancellor for student affairs, said housing construction was stalled because the campus is finishing seismic retrofittings of existing buildings and renovations of Bowles Hall and Clark Kerr Campus.

“We have a strategic plan for managing space,” Sutton said. “We were focused on keeping up buildings. … We haven’t had a lot of space to build new housing lately.”

With the campus’s spending at debt capacity — UC Berkeley currently faces a $150 million structural deficit — the school can no longer fund capital projects on its own. Instead, the campus’s initial strategy to finance housing is public-private partnerships with American Campus Communities. ACC will back UC Berkeley housing projects, and the campus can then pay off the loans gradually using students’ rental fees.

In the report, the campus housing task force found that of all UC campuses, UC Berkeley has the lowest percentage of beds for the student body, at approximately 22 percent for undergraduates and 9 percent for graduate students. The systemwide average is 38.1 percent for undergraduates. The task force report recommends a target of beds for 50 percent of undergraduates and 25 percent of graduate students.

The report estimates that the housing site planned for People’s Park would provide 200 to 350 beds for undergraduate students, in line with the university’s original intent for the land when it was purchased in 1956. The task force plans to create an “open space” on the site and build a memorial to commemorate the park’s legacy.

The park has a long history of student protests, including its role as the site of the “Bloody Thursday” protest-turned-conflict May 15, 1969, during which then-governor Ronald Reagan sent in National Guard troops to subdue student protesters. A student bystander was shot by police and later died from his injury. In 1969, students protested the UC Board of Regents’ plans to build a soccer field on People’s Park.

In recent years, People’s Park has become home to many members of the city’s homeless population. One of Mayor Jesse Arreguin’s proposals to address homelessness is to find more public land where people without housing can camp and to develop new ways to provide shelter.

“We have to accept some responsibility for the people who live in the park,” Christ said. “The mayor has a homeless initiative. We’d like to be a partner. … There has to be a more integrated solution.”

While the report notes that “careful collaboration” with the city will be necessary to develop the park site into student housing, some in the local community were not responsive to the campus’s plans, especially in light of the park’s use by the homeless.

“Eliminating open space is the easy way out for the Regents,” said Mike Lee, a member of the homeless community and the city’s Homeless Commission, in an email. “The Regents continually expand the student population but not the resources they need like housing.”

Christ said she and the task force are working to find new places for those who were displaced by current housing developments, such as the various programs offered out of Stiles Hall, the former site of which is now under development for student housing. Additionally, some campus College of Natural Resources researchers will be required to move out of the Oxford Tract to allow for construction. According to Christ, individuals in these programs have been extremely cooperative.

“The next steps are being started,” Christ said. “We’ll move as quickly as we can.”

Ashley Wong is the lead academics and administration reporter. Contact her at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @wongalum.

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  • abe1000

    Instead of cutting down all those beautiful oak trees by Memorial Stadium, they should have leveled the stadium and made a park. UCB is turning the whole city into a concrete wasteland and overcharging students. The education they provide stinks. Berkeley used to be an exciting place with inspirational educators. Now it has become mediocrity. The only professor who has a voice worth listening to is Robert Reich. The world is in the throes of crisis and what are our universities doing about it? Why aren’t they designing state of the art safe nuclear reactors? Meanwhile, the Russians, Chinese and Indians are building safer fast breeders, molten sodium or molten lead cooled. Berkeley was part of the Manhattan project, but now it is just Manhattanizing berkeley. Sad.

  • orphan ellie

    AND…each bed has to come with a Safe Space where dissenting views cannot be heard.
    AND…each floor needs to have a Sanctuary Space for non-citizens receiving taxpayer funded housing and tuition.
    AND..each housing unit will require a Riot Planning Room with posters and incendiary devices in case of an outbreak of Free Speech.

  • Pac10champs

    At some point it needs to be developed. It has been sitting vacant for waaaaayyyy too long.

  • Andrew H

    Please build on People’s Park ASAP! Thank you!!!

  • Curtis Jones

    Before the first riot, the plot of land that is now Peoples Zoo was slated to be dormitory Unit 4.

  • paxallen1067

    My first (knee jerk) reaction: save the tall trees. My second: whatever goes up should be ‘parklike’..

  • Blop44

    Here’s the report:

    Contact members of the task force and let them know that Cal needs more student housing!

    Task Force Members
    Carol Christ, Interim Executive Vice Chancellor and Provost (Chair) Fiona Doyle, Dean of the Graduate Division
    Ben Hermalin, Vice Provost for the Faculty
    Rajiv Parikh, Associate Vice Chancellor for Real Estate
    Richard Stanton, Professor
    Stephen Sutton, Interim Vice Chancellor for Student Affairs
    Chris Treadway, Assistant Vice Chancellor for Government and Community Relations Ann Jeffrey (Staff)

  • 安百瑞

    Field hockey generates better use of housing. I loved the Cloyne Court basketball court, but a field hockey field in the back would have generated a ‘stronger community.’ As it is it has just become a smoking section, a bike rack, and some displaced suburban turf.

    Berkeley has shared space issues as large as the housing issues. Playing fields that welcome women first typically succeed for everyone else. It’s a matter of serving the unserved before everyone else.

  • diogenes

    How many more entering freshmen and others are admitted yearly for the past five years as contrasted with 1970-1975, Daily Cal? There’s a basic fact pertinent to this discussion. Are you journalists or children or shills? How bout it? Can you do a little investigative reporting or is that beyond your competence?

    Because the elephant in the housing crisis room in Berkeley is exactly that.

  • Jeff T

    Please, please, please build on People’s Park. It is an embarrassment to the city and the city’s citizens have tolerated the scum and crime that go hand-in-hand with the park for far too long.

  • Sam

    Finally. Also, the chancellor’s house needs to be replaced with more dense housing or office space.

  • Mark Talmont

    They could sell it to the Chinese. This should at least placate the Communists. And if you want housing to be “high density”….

  • orchidgoon

    I love the ever popular “rich people’s housing” references. The only way its that way is because all of you old fools (and mindless myopic millenials) won’t let housing get built at all.

    • Edward

      This “old fool” agrees with you and I’m approaching three-quarters of a century and have watched it going on for a long time. The classic is “It’s out of scale with the neighborhood!” Yes, we live in a village. One with 130,000 people.

  • orchidgoon

    you could put 500-700 beds on half the site.

  • Professor S Freeman

    Building more physical housing and classrooms in this period of structural deficits is fiscally irresponsible. The University of California with the help of California’s Tech Industry should have a totally online virtual campus.

    BTW, I liked going to Borders Books before the bookstore closed. Borders did not see the competition from online retail stores as a big threat.

    • Mark Talmont

      Both the UC and CSU system have been engaged in foot-dragging on providing online access. The rationing model of education prevails; it’s like there is only so much stuff to be gleaned so they dose it out a little at a time. Probably the motive is driven by the wish to preserve jobs that may not be top-grade in terms of “value added”.

      • Edward

        Online teaching is a good idea, but problems have to be worked out. The first attempts were initiated with great hopes, but completion rates have been in the low single digits.

        • diogenes

          Actually on-line teaching for graduate level professional (including medical) training and license certification is doing very well and is highly successful. There’s no question the model works. Administrators at UC and elsewhere are resisting it because it cuts into their institutional monopoly power. Attending a scheduled lecture in the flesh today is incomparably a stupid way to absorb knowledge, and Skype-enabled virtual seminars are a working fact.

          • berk_res

            Golden Gate University has been doing this for decades successfully. The introductory computer science class at berkeley has something like 1200 students in the class. UC needs to move into at least the 20th century and use this thing called the internet

  • laura


  • John Smith

    “Private funding”?? Gee, what could go wrong with that? Lessee … inflated and ever-increasing rents to match market rents, slumlord services; all with Campus Housing shrugging their shoulders and saying “whaddya gonna do”? Sounds about right.

    If it’s University housing, it had better be university-funded housing because counting on capitalistic markets to do the right thing is an exercise in idiocy.

    • Edward

      The private company loans money to the university so that the building can be built. The university pays back the loan. It can be with rent – and probably will be – but it can use other sources. The rent is set by the university. That’s how it works. Sorry it doesn’t fit with your theories, but “them’s the breaks”.

    • lspanker

      The capitalistic market that is shamelessly allowed to build apartments down here in the South Bay has ensured that there are plenty of rental units that are just as nice (if not better) but cheaper than one can find in Berkeley. Just because you choose not to understand basic economic laws such as that of Supply and Demand doesn’t nullify their effect on the housing stock.

  • ronj1955

    Leave People’s Park Alone! Stop the gentrification of the South Telegraph. Convert the Admin buildings to student housing instead and get rid of the bulk of the overpaid administrators. Berkeley belongs to the people not the regent……

    • Nunya Beeswax

      Judging from your prose, you could use a bit of education yourself.

    • Edward

      Have you ever been in a dorm? Two to a room. Bath down the hall. You have a weird concept of gentrification.

      • lspanker

        I’m willing to bet that the person you are responding to has NO concept as to what “gentrification” is supposed to mean. With most of his types, it’s an accusatory buzzword to be interjected into discussion when one wants to play “activist”…

    • lspanker

      The “people” that Cal Berkeley (and the rest of the UC system) belongs to are the TAXPAYERS, not the screaming activists to block any and all form of constructive problem-solving because they are desperately starved for attention…

  • Pietro Gambadilegno

    People’s Park and the corner of Bancroft/Oxford (next to the new swimming pool) are both excellent sites for housing. They would both help mend the urban fabric and make the city more walkable, as well as providing badly needed housing units.

    Ideally, the site at Bancroft/Oxford should have retail on the first floor. BTW, at this location, the street is actually named Fulton, not Oxford.

    I hope they preserve some of Oxford Tract for agricultural studies, as well as developing the southern end of the tract with student housing.

  • JoeyWC

    Put up a nice sign/plaque/statue AFTER its built…

    • lspanker

      One that points out that it was the onetime natural habitat of the species known as detritus berkeleyanus would be quite appropriate…

  • William M Popper

    Truth is Timeless.

    • lspanker

      The truth is that People’s Park was a place I avoid like the plague when I was a Cal undergrad, because even back then we knew that the only people who went there were either looking for drugs or trouble, or possibly both.

  • Nunya Beeswax

    About damn time.

  • JO

    Oh boy. This is gunna be interesting.

  • William M Popper

    The park has a long history of student protests,(Including many diverse written histories such as this one, much too simplistic ) including its role as the site of the “Bloody Thursday” protest-turned-conflict on May 15, 1969, during which then-governor Ronald Reagan sent in National Guard troops to subdue student protesters.(And declared Martial Law within the city of Berkeley for a day/night) A student bystander was shot by police and later died from his injury. In 1969, students protested the UC Board of Regents’ plans to build a soccer (volleyball courts) field on People’s Park.

    • David Konerding

      I don’t see these as valid arguments for maintaining the park.

      • ronj1955

        neither is housing rich students a valid reason for getting rid of the park–the very small piece of green in the area, as far as I can tell.

        • Jupiternuno

          A piece of green that is owned by violent drug addicted crazy people.
          Not anymore. We’re taking back Berkeley whether they like it or not.

        • lspanker

          You think the average Cal undergrad is “rich”?

      • William M Popper

        You would if you had been living and present in Berkeley Ca. USA at that time and were present during the creation of a “Peoples Park”.

        • David Konerding

          you’re not making an argument; you’re making an appeal to tradition. There is no historical reason to maintain people’s park. A memorial plaque on the building would be appropriate.

          • William M Popper

            Mr. Koneriding, when is an argument ultimately not an appeal?

          • David Konerding

            When the argument is based on rationale and logic. See “rhetoric” and “fallacies” for more detail.

          • William M Popper

            Mr. Konerding, Mental gymnastics aside, the preservation of an urban open park in one of the most densely populated cities in California is not a concern for you…Thank You for being so forthcoming… see you the plaque unveiling.

          • Pietro Gambadilegno

            The overwhelming majority of Berkeley residents are unwilling to go into People’s Park. It does not function as an urban open park.

          • AA BUSD Mom

            I have to agree here. It appears to be more of a open drug den. II drive by that area often and it is a wasteland. From the article, it appears the original purpose was indeed for student housing. As University property, I think they owe it to the student population to provide housing near campus since the space it there. I agree that a memorial plaque, courtyard would be respectful.

          • berk_res

            Agree. And I just don’t see students or liberals protesting the conversion. Mario Savio is a very distant memory

    • ronj1955
      • William M Popper

        Thank You for the reference material.

        • Pietro Gambadilegno

          In the 1960s. people were idealistic about People’s Park.
          Since the 1970s, almost everyone has realized that it was a failure.
          Fifty years of failure is long enough.

          • William M Popper

            Your supporting data base empirical information is to be reviewed where? You claim to speak for the “vast majority” is questionable at best.

          • lspanker

            The “vast majority” does not even USE that park for the reasons that Pietro and others have pointed out. A small cadre of local substance abusers and small-time dealers have made that their turf, so how that that benefit the “vast majority” again?

          • Pietro Gambadilegno

            Where is your data supporting your claim that People’s Park is used by a broad cross-section of Berkeley? You have none.

            Both of us are talking about our impressions. And anyone who goes into People’s Park with open eyes will agree with my impression that most people are not willing to go there.

            I would be glad to have the city and university do a survey of Berkeley and neighborhood residents to see how many are willing to go to People’s Park. If the survey shows that the vast majority are unwilling, we can get rid of the park. Would you agree to that, or do you secretly know that the survey results would be against you?

      • Mark Talmont

        The terrorist sympathizer at that site is hardly credible. The well-worn path back to the mythological glory days of the 60s (video “Berkeley in the 60s” an example) has been established by repeating the same folklore.There is a single text with an eyewitness deviating from the left-wing doctrinal accounts: “The Berkeley Archipelago” by UC journalism professor Joseph Lyford

        according to some witnesses at least the “bystander” killed by the shotgun blast, James Rector, was throwing chunks of concrete with rebar sticking out from a rooftop down onto the police in the street. The movie theater manager on Telegraph who was blinded by shotgun pellets however by all accounts was an innocent caught in the melee.

        Curiously the UC library apparently has no copy of this significant book. Maybe somebody stole it? (Probably only the 60s people will get the Abbie Hoffman reference.)

  • build baby build!