UC Berkeley chancellor affirms Oxford Tract development, sparking backlash from community

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UC Berkeley faculty, staff, students, alumni, retired staff and community members met Monday to discuss the ongoing housing proposal for the Oxford Tract with College of Natural Resources Dean David Ackerly, who led the meeting.

The meeting came after a letter from Chancellor Carol Christ to the CNR community April 2, reaffirming the decision to develop student housing on the Oxford Tract. According to the letter, the campus will “ensure long-term access to the necessary facilities,” and is committed to maintaining the Student Organic Garden in the northwest corner of the Oxford Tract. The letter also added that it is “inevitable” that most or all of the research and teaching field in the northern half will be relocated, but not abandoned.

However, the meeting was not without its dissenting opinions, as many  attendees expressed concerns generally targeted at the importance of the Oxford Tract  for research and education.

“I have to say that these land spaces have been a pinnacle of my education, and I can’t imagine my education without these land spaces,” said Megan Panero-Eley, a recent CNR graduate, at the meeting. “No one is going to hire me to grow food if I only learn about it in a classroom.

Ackerly acknowledged the importance of the space and described the “extremely valuable” facilities at the Oxford Tractgreenhouses, insectary, the field and the natural labs building integral for maintaining the campus’s elite position as a public research, education and public service institution.

The letter referenced the impact of the development on CNR research, education and outreach activities, but said that campus will “work closely” and “collaborate” with CNR. Early in the meeting, Ackerly also expressed the importance of addressing the housing crisis facing students at UC Berkeley.

“We know that housing is real. I hope there is no one here that would deny that housing is a real issue,” Ackerly said. “That is different from whether you believe Oxford Tract should be part of the solution of the housing issue.”

UC Berkeley currently has the lowest percentage of beds out of all UC campuses, according to the 2017 Housing Master Plan that described a campus deficit of 6,900 beds. The recently built David Blackwell Hall only houses about 750 students, according to the UC Berkeley housing website.

Hannah Haugenes, a campus senior, questioned the affordability of university housing, alleging that housing “has never been affordable.” They said their preferred future would incorporate no development, especially on the fields where the soil is “extremely rich” and has been “cultivated for years.”

“I feel really torn about this issue because on the one hand, my graduate school lab and my postdoc lab have made use of both the green houses and the field space at the Oxford Track, and having that space is absolutely essential for the research that we do in CNR,” said campus postdoctoral fellow Rebecca Mackelprang. “On the other hand, I am deeply concerned about the housing crunch.”

Contact Brennan Havens at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter at @BrennanHavens.