‘Strongly objecting’: Community members march against UC Berkeley development plans at People’s Park, 1921 Walnut St.

Image of protestors marching
Eliana Marcu/Staff
As UC Berkeley faces growing demand for student housing, campus is continuing its plans to construct the housing on People's Park and 1921 Walnut St. In opposition to these development plans, about 100 community members gathered Saturday.

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About 100 community members gathered Saturday at 1921 Walnut St. for a march to People’s Park protesting UC Berkeley’s development plans at both locations.

The march comes as UC Berkeley continues its plans to construct student housing at People’s Park and on what is currently a tenant-occupied and rent-controlled apartment building at 1921 Walnut St.

“We’re strongly objecting to this,” said Paul Wallace, a six-year resident and current tenant of 1921 Walnut St., at the march. “We believe it’s extremely unfair.”

Development is underway as campus faces growing demand for student housing. 

Natalie Logusch, who has lived at 1921 Walnut St. for 11 years, said she was informed of UC Berkeley’s plans to convert the property into student housing after its purchase last year.

“I can’t tell you how nerve-wracking it’s been during the pandemic right when we’re told to shelter at home, or the only safe place we have is our home, and UC is threatening to evict us,” Logusch alleged at the march.

She also alleged that UC Berkeley has failed to provide transparency and any “real” time frame for development on the 112-year-old property.

UC Berkeley spokesperson Dan Mogulof said in an email, however, that a Jan. 26 letter informed 1921 Walnut St. residents that under no circumstances will they be required to permanently relocate before the end of August 2021, at the earliest.

Given their concerns, Logusch said she and other tenants have repeatedly asked to engage with UC Berkeley in community listening sessions but alleged that campus has “blatantly” refused.

Instead, Logusch said UC Berkeley has deferred tenants to a third-party relocation company, which she described as an “impersonal” and “dehumanizing” approach to the evictions.

Mogulof denied in the email that campus refused to meet with tenants, adding that residents have been encouraged to get in contact with UC Berkeley staff to discuss the relocation process and their rights under UC system policy.

He also emphasized that the relocation company, Autotemp, was specifically chosen to ensure tenants have access to those with the necessary expertise to address their concerns. Campus is also planning to offer relocation packages to tenants with compensation of up to six figures, depending on the household’s financial circumstances, Mogulof added.

Still, Logusch and her fellow tenants have turned toward community support from those such as Berkeley resident Yolanda Rocco, who joined in with the march.

“Even though I’m not involved in the first person, I am here to show that I feel that when people’s rights are hurt and touched, we need to stand up for all,” Rocco said at the march.

Defend People’s Park, the United Front Against Displacement and others have also joined to further the 1921 Walnut St. tenants’ efforts, including by lending a hand to help plan the march.

Organizers see a connection between UC Berkeley’s actions at Walnut Street and People’s Park, according to activist and campus student Laurel Halvorson.

Halvorson noted what she considers to be a trend of displacement and gentrification by the UC system, adding that “land grabs” have been steadily occurring since the 1980s and shifted the university into a more privatized entity.

Logusch added that she believes UC system development at 1921 Walnut St. and People’s Park is set to create a larger precedent.

“In the UC regions — not just in Berkeley, but all throughout California — they’re going to target rent control buildings and green spaces because they’re cheap and they’re vulnerable,” Logusch alleged at the march.

As the march wound down, People’s Park Committee organizer Maxina Ventura, who has been a park activist for several decades, alleged that there are other motivations for the development — despite what she characterized as a plethora of other sites available.

“It’s never ever … been about housing,” Ventura said at the march. “I believe it’s all about sanitizing the area for the suburban parents who want to send their kids here.”

Harvey Smith of the People’s Park Historic District Advocacy Group described seeming aesthetic differences between the park and other campus green spaces such as Memorial Glade.

Smith claimed these differences are intentional.

On part of campus, Mogulof categorically denied that UC Berkeley is attempting to sanitize People’s Park, calling unsubstantiated allegations “baseless.”

Campus has never used the word “sanitize” and is “at a loss” regarding these allegations, Mogulof said.

He explained that campus employs a full-time social worker at the park who works to connect unhoused people with support services. Mogulof also noted the development’s plans to address unhoused peoples’ needs as evidence of UC Berkeley’s intentions to support the park’s community and heritage — not erase it.

“Developing housing is not sanitizing,” Mogulof said. “Providing homes for the unhoused is not sanitizing, providing improved green spaces is not sanitizing nor is having an appropriate memorial to the park’s past.”

Still, Smith emphasized that the park — given its historic significance and the present green space — should be preserved for the community.

Yet, the fate of 1921 Walnut St. and People’s Park seems final as campus continues forth with its plans, as affirmed in a Feb. 22 update from Chancellor Carol Christ.

Along with student housing, the People’s Park site is set to feature supportive housing, the update reads, while the site at 1921 Walnut St. is set to feature housing predominantly for low-income transfer students of color.

Activists such as Halvorson are calling for the UC Board of Regents to not approve the updated campus long-range development plan. The plan is set to add more than 11,000 beds for UC Berkeley students to address the current housing shortage and accommodate the 8,000 plus students expected to join campus in the coming years.

Despite UC Berkeley’s plans, Halvorson and other organizers remain steadfast in their mission.

“We want to come together. We want to create systems of care and love,” Halvorson said at the march. “We want to stand up in resistance to these systems like the University of California.”

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

A previous version of this article incorrectly stated that supportive housing planned for the People’s Park development will be intended for the park’s current residents. In fact, residents of the planned supportive housing have not yet been determined and will be left to relevant city departments and/or community organizations, not UC Berkeley.