On Monday at 4 p.m., the tenants of 1921 Walnut St. and their supporters protested in front of the UC Office of the President in Oakland against the UC Board of Regents’ purchase of their building.
This action follows a June 29 protest by the 1921 Walnut Street Association members, who are trying to keep their rent-controlled apartments from suspected demolition. Through campus’s “Gateway” project, 1921 Walnut St. is part of a plan to develop new student housing.
“This is our home and we’re going to fight for it,” said long-term tenant Natalie Logusch. “We want them to see us, to stop ignoring us.”
Monday’s protest consisted of about 20 people, including tenants and members from Berkeley Rent Stabilization Board, Berkeley Tenants Union, Berkeley Citizens Action, Eviction Defense Center and Bay Area Tenant and Neighborhood Councils.
Since the last protest, 1921 Walnut St. has been purchased by the regents, which means the tenants are no longer under the protection of city rent ordinances due to the UC system’s exemption as a state institution. This also allows the regents to obtain building permits for the land without approval from Berkeley City Council.
“It’s like a giant coming in and taking over,” said rent board chair Paola Laverde.
According to campus spokesperson Dan Mogulof, campus has not decided to demolish the building yet, as it is still finalizing project plans. He added that, as a result, residents can remain in their units for “some time.”
While Mogulof said in an email that there is currently no imminent action planned for the property, Logusch said 1921 Walnut St. supporters fear that the regents are intentionally keeping them in the dark.
“The University is preparing a relocation plan,” Mogulof said in the email. “Relocation will not actually commence unless and until the campus moves forward with a plan to demolish the building, which does not exist at present.”
Potential relocation offers for 1921 Walnut St. residents would be dependent on the circumstances of each household and could include payment for moving expenses and financial assistance for rental or purchase costs of a replacement dwelling.
ASUC External Affairs Vice President Derek Imai said he supports the Gateway project’s goal of creating student housing, but opposes the inclusion of 1921 Walnut St. and the subsequent evictions it would require.
“Students want more affordable housing and they want more university housing in general,” Imai said. “But I think if you ask most students on campus, they wouldn’t want it to come at the expense of longtime tenants.”
He alleged that campus is using students as “pawns” to justify the consequences of developing the block.
Local officials and organizations have also voiced their support for protecting 1921 Walnut St., with Mayor Jesse Arreguín echoing Imai’s sentiment.
“I am very concerned that in the process of creating new homes the University would eliminate existing affordable housing and displace current tenants,” Arreguín said in a statement.
Arreguín added that UC Berkeley can exclude the 1921 Walnut St. site from its development plans and still achieve a substantial number of housing units.
According to John Selawsky, member of the rent board and Berkeley Tenants Union, the 1921 Walnut Street Association has agreed to hold an event every four to six weeks to keep the issue in the spotlight.
“We’re not going to stop until we get UC to listen to us,” Logusch said. “We don’t have an option.”