People’s Park volunteers clash with UC Berkeley officials over decision on stage maintenance

Alvin Wu/Staff

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In the most recent iteration of a conflict surrounding the identity of People’s Park, UC Berkeley officials and park activists are butting heads over UC construction policies that bar certain maintenance and construction in the park.

Last week, longtime park volunteer Dana Merryday asked that the campus supply electricity to power tools needed to repair the stage — a wooden platform that has existed in some form in the park since the 1970s — in time for performances at the park during the Berkeley World Music Festival on Saturday. Campus officials, however, reviewed the proposed repairs and determined that any work would need to be limited to repainting, citing safety concerns and policy on making changes to UC property.

“Such an effort raises safety concerns and modifications to a campus structure needs to be done by certified and licensed professionals, not volunteers,” said campus spokesperson Janet Gilmore in an email.

According to Gilmore, the decision doesn’t represent a new approach by the campus but is rather the application of universitywide policies on construction and contracting. While some volunteer maintenance has been allowed in the past — Merryday recalled working with campus students on service projects involving building benches in the park — volunteer-work requests are considered on a case-by-case basis. In the case of stage repairs, the request to use electrical saws and sanders was considered a safety risk to the volunteers, community and university, according to campus Real Estate chief of staff Moira Perez.

Both campus officials and People’s Park activists agree that the structural integrity of the stage is not in question. A structural engineer who inspected the stage Thursday confirmed that it was sound, according to Gilmore. Merryday, a former member of the park’s community advisory board, said he spent close to two hours under the stage looking for damage and agreed with the campus’s findings.

Merryday and Berkeley World Music Festival Director Gianna Ranuzzi, however, expressed concerns that the unevenness of the surface and deterioration of plywood could be a safety hazard for musicians and dancers during the upcoming music festival, which is spread out among several city venues, including People’s Park.

“We’re trying to make it as safe as possible for the performers, of course, because we may have one band that may be 10 people,” Ranuzzi said.

Gilmore said the campus was aware of such concerns and was interested in making improvements to the stage in the future.

In March, park community members launched a GoFundMe campaign to raise money for stage repairs and held a benefit at the Starry Plough, a local pub, in April, raising about $500 for materials in the process, according to Merryday. After a discussion, Merryday said, participants decided against rebuilding the stage entirely, planning instead to add a thinner-grade plywood on top to level out the surface. But because installing the plywood would require power tools — at least for the purpose of finishing the project before the Berkeley World Music Festival takes place — the campus denied the request to supply electricity and restricted repairs to repainting.

As a result of the campus decision, about 10 members spent Saturday and Sunday caulking cracks, chiseling out uneven points and adding primer to the stage, which was last rebuilt about 15 years ago, according to Merryday. Volunteers plan to continue adding primer and layering a base coat of paint this week to finish in time for the music festival.

“We’ll patch what we can and try to freshen up the paint job,” Merryday said. “At least they’ll let us do that for now.”

Contact Katy Abbott at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter @katyeabbott.