The first of three open houses hosted by UC Berkeley Capital Strategies regarding the proposed housing project at People’s Park was interrupted by protesters opposing the development Feb. 10.
The open house lasted from 4-8 p.m. in Pauley Ballroom and featured representatives from various groups involved with the project. Protesters gathered outside the open house at 4 p.m. and rallied inside the open house from 4:30-5:30 p.m. carrying signs with slogans such as “land to the people,” “planet before profit” and “saving the park equals saving history.”
About 50 protesters formed a large circle in the center of the room, with some playing instruments and singing. The protesters gave a series of speeches demanding that campus officials halt the plans to build at People’s Park.
“The university’s plans for development don’t reflect the perspective of our community as a whole or our students’ voices,” said Berkeley Homeless Commission member Aidan Hill. “Instead of doing this, the university should provide better support for marginalized students who are disproportionately affected by the housing crisis.”
Hill said the students at the rally provided a list of alternative sites and community-based solutions that they believe should replace the proposed People’s Park development. The park already provides basic needs services, recreational opportunities and community gathering space, they added.
The open house consisted of a series of stations with posters inviting community feedback and representatives who explained the project’s background, the history of People’s Park, benefits and concerns and the supportive housing component.
“We’re committed to soliciting feedback and hearing from the community,” said Kyle Gibson, director of communications for Capital Strategies. “I mean this is Berkeley — expressing individual opinions and ideas is just part of who we are, both as a campus and a community. This project carries a lot of thoughts and feelings, for a lot of people, and that’s why we’re holding three open houses, to give people who care a lot an opportunity to express their concerns.”
Dan Sawislak, executive director of the housing nonprofit organization Resources for Community Development, or RCD, said the development of People’s Park is an “amazing opportunity” to address the housing and homelessness crises in Berkeley.
The People’s Park development would provide up to 1,200 additional beds, primarily for undergraduate students, according to the open house presentation. RCD will also be working to create 75 to 125 permanent housing units for homeless individuals.
“People’s Park has such a unique history, particularly for the homeless population, as being a place of refuge,” said Brenda Goldstein, chief of integrated services for LifeLong Medical Care. “We want to make sure we honor that by providing really high quality services, as well as preserving outdoor space.”
LifeLong Medical Care will also work to provide “wraparound services,” such as medical care, mental health care and case management, to residents free of cost, according to Goldstein. Gibson added that employment training will also be provided.
The second open house will be held in March, where Capital Strategies plans to present at least 3 options for the project’s final design to the community, according to Gibson.
“Right now what we need is housing, especially given the fact that the number of people that have been admitted and are enrolling in Cal has shot up tremendously over the past years,” said Yusra Arub, a campus freshman who attended the open house. “At the same time, given the protests that we see outside, there is this beautiful community that I think is really misunderstood here at Cal, and it’s important to preserve that community and regard what they see as important.”