The UC Board of Regents discussed UC Berkeley’s proposal to develop student and supportive housing on the historic People’s Park site during its Wednesday meeting, as the campus intends to seek approval of preliminary funds later this year.
Since plans were announced in May 2018 to develop People’s Park into student housing and supportive housing for community members, the project has been a source of contention within the Berkeley community. In the regents’ Finance and Capital Strategies Committee meeting Wednesday, Chancellor Carol Christ spoke about the proposal and addressed this conflict, noting the increasing need for student housing.
“I’m not so naive to think we won’t have public controversy, but I’ve been very public about these plans, and I’ve talked to many neighborhood groups about them,” Christ said during the meeting. “I think public opinion has shifted about the park.”
During the meeting, Christ outlined the plans for the project, which include half of the land being used for student housing, a quarter for permanent supportive housing with an educational site for the campus’ School of Social Welfare and School of Public Health and the final quarter used as open space to commemorate the park’s history.
UC Berkeley is expected to request approval of the plan’s preliminary funds at the regents meeting in March, according to the meeting agenda.
Lisa Teague, a member of the People’s Park Committee, said this “open space” would not be enough to account for the value the park holds to community members. She also cited the increasing density on Southside as a reason to preserve People’s Park, saying it is one of the only large areas of green space left in the immediate area.
“The whole park is pretty much our bottom line, for so many reasons,” Teague said. “We believe the entire park needs to be saved, not some little scrap with a plaque.”
The proposal for supportive housing does not specify the population that will be housed, only stating that it will be determined by sources of federal, state and local subsidies, according to the meeting agenda. Berkeley Homeless Commissioner Aidan Hill said this could mean people currently living in and around People’s Park may not be qualified to live in the building.
Varsha Sarveshwar, ASUC external affairs vice president and president of the UC Student Association, said in an email that she is supportive of the development to alleviate the affordable housing crisis for community members and to provide more “transitional housing for unsheltered individuals.”
“I recognize that many others don’t feel this way and are very passionate about the park and its historic significance,” Sarveshwar said in the email. “So I anticipate that this will be a difficult conversation moving forward.”
Part of the incentive for the project is to address increased crime rates in the area, according to the agenda. The park’s habitual residents are usually among the victims of criminal activity, rather than the perpetrators, stated the agenda.
“I’m on the ground doing what I wish they would do, which is simply talk to us,” Hill said. “This is such a beautiful place — talk to the people rather than spending money to take the problem away.”