In preparation for plans to build student and supportive housing, UC Berkeley Capital Strategies, which oversees campus development, temporarily closed sections of People’s Park on Tuesday for soil and safety testing.
Over the next three weeks, different parts of the park will be blocked off for geotechnical investigation, a term for soil and ground testing conducted by developers to optimize their designs for seismic safety, according to UC Berkeley Capital Strategies spokesperson Kyle Gibson. These tests are part of the environmental review for plans to construct more undergraduate student housing and permanent supportive housing in People’s Park for formerly homeless or very low-income individuals, Gibson said. He added that there are plans to revitalize and landscape more than an acre of the park’s open space as well.
According to Lisa Teague, People’s Park Committee member, these recent developments have caused some confusion and concern among park residents.
“We’re very clear that at no time are (park residents) going to need to leave the park,” Gibson said. “All that is going to be asked of them is that if they are currently occupying an area needed for soil analysis, that they temporarily move to a different area of the park that’s not currently closed.”
After the soil analysis is completed, Capital Strategies will remove the fencing and park residents can return to previously blocked off areas, Gibson added.
According to Teague, however, people in park encampments were not given clear warning about the testing plans. They added that people were disoriented when equipment arrived at the park for setup Tuesday before 5 a.m.
“The problem is that every time you have to move, even if you don’t have to move far, you have to dismantle everything, drag it over and then reassemble it,” Teague said. “If you have to do that over and over, it becomes pretty traumatic.”
Although bathrooms remain accessible, the park’s dumpsters are now blocked off by fencing, which Teague said imposes a health and safety concern on an “already food-insecure population.”
The driveway used to deliver meals to the park is now also being blocked by equipment, according to Teague. They added that organizations that distribute food at the park, such as East Bay Food Not Bombs, will need to adjust how they conduct their deliveries.
Capital Strategies is working to complete the testing as quickly as possible, according to Gibson. After the environmental impact report is finalized, the housing project will need to seek approval from the UC Board of Regents, Gibson added.
According to Gibson, if approved, construction is projected to start in 2022.