‘A larger issue’: Students, community members discuss possible alternatives to Oxford Tract development

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Update 3/8/2018: this article has been updated to reflect an additional title for Matthew Lewis.

The Oxford Tract Organizing Coalition held an open meeting Tuesday evening that brought together about 30 students and community members to discuss the campus’s proposed development of the Oxford Tract into student housing.

The coalition comprises mostly campus undergraduate students who advocate for the preservation of the Oxford Tract — a site located north of campus that is currently home to greenhouses and laboratory facilities for agricultural research purposes. Campus senior and coalition member Grace Treffinger added that the coalition also has support from faculty and members of the ASUC.

UC Berkeley’s housing task force cited the Oxford Tract as a potential location for housing development in a January 2017 report. Other potential locations listed were People’s Park, and Channing Way and Ellsworth Street.

“I agree that we need to develop housing,” Treffinger said. “All of us should think a little more critically as far as what are the roots of the housing crisis we’re in, not just what is a Band-Aid solution.”

At the meeting, attendees broke out into smaller groups to discuss three overarching topics related to the Oxford Tract: alternative housing sites, future vision of the Oxford Tract and community outreach. Group discussions assessed ways to address the student housing crisis that would not come at the expense of the Oxford Tract, such as finding alternative locations for development.

Campus sophomore and coalition member Angela White said during the meeting that the campus has not adequately engaged the community or conferred with students in discussions about the future of the Oxford Tract land.

“The dent that (Oxford Tract development) will make in the housing crisis is, in our opinion, not worth the loss of educational space,” White said at the meeting. “If you actually cared about the housing crisis, why are you not thinking of more inventive solutions?”

Meeting attendee Michael Hohmeyer, who lives in the neighborhood surrounding the Oxford Tract, suggested that the campus devise creative ways to maintain sustainable farming learning opportunities. One such idea would involve creating farms on the roofs of student housing complexes, he said.

Hohmeyer added that he would not be opposed to “moderate-height” development on the Oxford Tract land, which he defined as a four-story student housing complex.

Along with coalition members, other students — including president of Berkeley Student Cooperative Zach Gamlieli and Housing Advisory Commissioner Matthew Lewis — attended the meeting to engage in discussion about affordable housing development. Lewis, who is also a campus senior and a member of the ASUC Housing Commission, said the ASUC’s commission is introducing a referendum on this year’s election ballot that includes a list of priority development sites other than the Oxford Tract.

Treffinger announced that Councilmember Kate Harrison’s office intends to host a town hall meeting on the Oxford Tract issue, though she said the date is not yet confirmed.

“We’re not just hippie tree-huggers,” campus senior Emanuelle Klachky said at the meeting. “This is a larger issue … about access to education, open spaces, the bigger food system.”

Contact Danielle Kaye at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @danielledkaye.

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