Activists have been busy organizing once again to save one of Berkeley’s most sacred spaces: a parking lot.
The campus has been working on a plan to redevelop the Upper Hearst Parking Structure. The project will include a much-needed expansion for the Goldman School of Public Policy, or GSPP; 150 additional units of housing dedicated to graduate students, postdoctoral students and campus employees; as well as an underground parking structure with 200 parking spaces.
Opposition to the proposal comes largely from faculty members who work in nearby buildings and are upset that this project will result in the reduction of available parking by about 200 spaces, even though there are many other lots on campus reserved for faculty and staff. In fact, other faculty parking facilities are subsidized to the tune of nearly $3,000 annually per parking space, based on a comparison of daily visitor parking rates and annual faculty permits. In addition, the Upper Hearst Development plan provides for additional faculty parking at the Maxwell Family Field and Foothill lots during construction, both of which are approximately 5 minutes on foot from the Upper Hearst location.
Those opposing the construction have created a petition on Change.org calling for a suspension of the project and on May 1 convened a special Academic Senate hearing on the matter. They have gone out of their way to question the financial feasibility and occupancy forecasts associated with the plan, despite the fact that this model has been successfully used in other recent campus projects, such as David Blackwell Hall.
This obstruction comes at the expense of us all.
First off, GSPP has been operating beyond capacity in its existing building for many years. Meetings and classes are often continuously scheduled in all the rooms throughout the day, restricting the ability for student groups to convene or for new courses to be offered. In fact, GSPP has had to relocate offices to a new space in Memorial Stadium. A new building would give GSPP the physical space it needs to accommodate its world-class graduate programs and add additional faculty, ensuring its continued place as one of the premier policy schools in the country.
This project would also provide dedicated graduate housing, something that is lacking on the north side of campus. Securing housing is one of the most difficult hurdles to overcome for UC Berkeley graduate students, many of whom are forced to commute from cities across the East Bay such as Oakland, Emeryville and El Cerrito.
Graduate students have been asking for the university to take action on housing for many years. Chancellor Carol Christ has claimed repeatedly that new housing is a priority for the campus and cited this project as an example of an action her administration is taking.
Public transit, biking and walking are how the majority of graduate students get to campus, and there is no reason that more faculty couldn’t as well. UC Berkeley has a beautiful parklike campus that is easily navigated on foot or by bicycle. The city is well served by frequent bus and shuttle service, and the planned development of the Upper Hearst lot is a 20-minute walk from the Downtown Berkeley BART station.
Blocking a project like this might not seem to have much of an effect beyond the campus, but it does. Housing projects are being stalled all around the Bay Area, which has led to significant shortfalls in housing supply in the region. This pent-up demand for decent housing causes further displacement of at-risk communities in West Oakland and additional greenfield development in places like Manteca and Tracy. The corner of Hearst and La Loma is exactly where new housing is most desperately needed: a walkable area, conveniently located near school, jobs and retail in an already densely populated neighborhood.
Christ has demonstrated strong leadership by supporting the Upper Hearst Development. Her actions have shown that this is an important issue to the campus by prioritizing much-needed housing and academic space over more parking. And faculty should support that.
The UC Berkeley campus needs to decide what it considers more important: maintaining a decades-old parking garage or improving the existing campus by building housing and classrooms in a healthy, walkable neighborhood. All members of the campus community will benefit from this investment in the future of the campus.
Max Sgro is a master’s student in the Goldman School of Public Policy.