Berkeley residents raise concerns over students’ return

Sproul Plaza
Sunny Shen/File
With recent reports of an increase in positive COVID-19 tests linked to parties in the Greek system, Berkeley residents are worried about the return of students to campus in a few weeks.

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Aug. 19 will mark the start of UC Berkeley’s 151st school year, but with the semester now beginning completely online, the return is set to be unlike anything seen in campus history before.

Despite the online start, UC Berkeley still plans to eventually utilize a hybrid format — although a possible influx of students is raising concerns for some Berkeley residents.

Berkeley resident Scott Bishop Falcone said he “didn’t think twice” about students’ return until learning of the campus’s recent uptick in COVID-19 cases in connection with the CalGreeks system.

Bishop Falcone said community oversight for campus social organizations could help facilitate COVID-19 safety, noting a need for collaboration between campus and the city.

Cynthia Zhou, a local resident and UC Berkeley graduate, said she too feels worried after hearing reports of the July rise in COVID-19 cases related to campus Greek life.

Zhou also raised concerns about practicing social distancing amid the fall return.

“Anytime a lot of people from different places are gathering in one space, it increases the chances one person could have not taken care,” Zhou said. “That could expose a whole lot of people exponentially.”

Berkeley resident Avi Rappoport said in a Twitter message that she would like to see free mandatory tests, quarantine lodging for two weeks, free masks and high-profile enforcement for students.

Krista Gulbransen, executive director of the Berkeley Property Owners Association, or BPOA, expressed concerns about students’ exposure to COVID-19, noting that landlords have an “additional layer of responsibilities as a housing provider.”

“We are providing an essential service — and probably one of the most essential services — because people are sheltering in place in our units,” Gulbransen said.

Gulbransen noted, however, that BPOA member properties are now only expecting about 30%-50% capacity in housing for students specifically.

According to Gulbransen, tenants contracting COVID-19 is one of BPOA’s biggest concerns, especially because there is no guarantee that quarantining can always be possible for tenants.

To address concerns regarding housing in the fall, Gulbransen emphasized collaboration between tenants and landlords.

“Often, the relationship between landlord and tenant can be made to be contentious,” Gulbransen said. “This is a time where we all have to say, ‘Look, we are truly in this together. We’re all at rock bottom together.’ ”

Gulbransen added that she believes communication between tenants and landlords regarding rent or COVID-19 concerns, among other issues, is important to working together.

With UC Berkeley’s decision to begin the semester fully online, Gulbransen also said breaking leases has become difficult due to the challenge of finding a replacement tenant because “the students just aren’t there.”

“There’s no real right answer on the matter,” Gulbransen said. “Both parties are losing out here.”

Contact Hanna Lykke at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @hannaathearstDC.