‘Don’t know what they’re thinking’: Berkeley community criticizes city, campus deal

photo of 1921 Walnut Street
Kaitlan Tseng/Senior Staff
Berkeley City Council approved a tentative agreement with campus regarding pending litigation and housing projects. In response, multiple neighborhood groups have filed a petition under the Brown Act, stating that because the decision was made without content disclosure in open session, the agreement is voided.

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The UC Board of Regents approved UC Berkeley’s Long Range Development Plan, or LRDP, on Wednesday, more than a week after Berkeley City Council approved a $82.6 million tentative agreement with campus regarding pending litigation and housing projects.

Under the terms of the agreement, broadly outlined in a city press release, Berkeley will receive annual payments from campus over the next 16 years to support various city services and projects. In return, the city will agree to not challenge campus’s People’s Park and Anchor House housing projects, the press release adds.

“It will result in, to my knowledge, the largest amount a host city has received from a campus, $82.6 million, and it will not only go to funding city services, but will support residents … and all these things we can support through this agreement,” said Berkeley Mayor Jesse Arreguín.

During a time for public comment at the board meeting Wednesday, Arreguín affirmed his support for campus’s efforts to expand student housing, noting that UC Berkeley has one of the lowest ratios of beds-to-students in the UC system.

Councilmember Rigel Robinson called the agreement an “$80 million win” for the city, noting that increased contributions from campus would serve as an investment in local communities. According to Robinson, the agreement would help balance relations between campus and the city.

“This deal is about the campus more than doubling its contribution to the city for use of fire and city services, and the city ensuring the campus builds the new student housing this community so desperately needs,” Robinson said in an email.

In a press conference, UC Berkeley Chancellor Carol Christ discussed the need to provide more student housing, particularly in light of increasing enrollment. Christ noted how campus has become a “commuter school without intending to become a commuter school,” describing the detrimental impact it has on students’ experiences.

While City Council authorized the agreement at its July 13 closed meeting, People’s Park Historic District Advocacy Group co-chair Harvey Smith noted that it was unclear how the city reached the settlement.

According to Smith, the city “snatched defeat from the jaws of victory” after deciding to settle a lawsuit that was ruled in favor of Berkeley as part of the agreement with campus.

“Ten people, potentially, with one dissenting vote, with over 121,000 residents in Berkeley,” Smith said. “Ten people, deciding in secret an agreement with the university that will affect many people for years to come, made the decision for all of us.”

As a result, a coalition of neighborhood groups filed a petition against Arreguín and City Council under the Brown Act, Smith added. Because the decision was made during closed session without disclosure of its content in open session, the city’s agreement with campus is null and void, according to the petition.

David Axelrod, attorney for the petitioners, said the goal of bringing the petition is to give members of the public the chance to view and critique the agreement in open discussion. Beyond the legal questions surrounding the agreement, Axelrod added that the terms of the settlement would directly impact the quality of life for all Berkeley residents, including unhoused individuals at People’s Park and tenants at 1921 Walnut St.

“Destruction of the park must and will be resisted,” Axelrod alleged. “What’s at issue here specifically is the Brown Act and its application on public meetings and City Council and the mayor feeling that they do not need to obey the law.”

The agreement will not take effect until approved by the regents.

Although it has not been approved as of press time, the board’s Financial and Capital Strategies Committee voted to approve campus’s LRDP, which outlines a framework for campus’s growth and development, including the two housing projects.

Natalie Logusch, a tenant of 1921 Walnut St., called City Council’s decision “shocking,” adding that she was surprised to hear that Arreguín, who had previously campaigned on a pro-tenant platform, had agreed to not challenge the developments.

Logusch noted that the tenants would face “impossible” economic challenges if forced to move, even with relocation packages from campus, which owns the property.

ASUC External Affairs Vice President Riya Master urged campus to consider the impact that the agreement would have on tenants and People’s Park residents amid one of the “worst housing crises” in the nation.

“They just figure that people don’t care enough, and Cal can do whatever they want,” Logusch said. “I don’t know what they’re thinking.”

Aditya Katewa is the executive news editor. Contact him at [email protected], and follow him on Twitter at @adkatewa1.