Despite the fact that UC Berkeley students urgently need housing, the Long Range Development Plan, or LRDP, recently approved by the UC Board of Regents includes poor land allocations, making any ameliorations practically impossible.
The new LRDP has faced extreme backlash from both students and community members for good reason: it clearly puts profits over the well-being of Berkeley residents and, for this reason, neglects large unused swathes of land. Instead of prioritizing students and community members, the LRDP builds over People’s Park, a historic site, as well as 1921 Walnut St., one of the few remaining rent-controlled properties in Berkeley.
The solution to this issue is for campus administrators to stop prioritizing profits and to instead allocate other areas of unused land to housing construction.
The UC Berkeley main campus only makes up a small portion of the land owned by the university and comprises about 180 acres of land. The land owned by the university in the city environs is about 70 acres and includes People’s Park. However, to the east of the main campus, UC Berkeley owns about 750 acres of land, some of which is technically in the city of Oakland, and most of which is undeveloped.
The empty land to the east of campus is currently being prioritized for athletic development and service infrastructures. Students and local community members believe that the current LRDP proposed expansions into the city environs, such as the one at People’s Park, are irresponsible and will actively cause even more harm.
As of August, three separate lawsuits have been filed by Make UC A Good Neighbor, Berkeley Citizens for a Better Plan and People’s Park Historic District Advocacy Group. All were in opposition to the current LRDP.
The People’s Park Historic District Advocacy Group’s lawsuit alleges that UC Berkeley failed to conduct adequate environmental impact reports on its proposed projects and asked for the People’s Park and the 1921 Walnut St. Anchor House project to be set aside. People’s Park Historic Advocacy District representative Harvey Smith was able to raise $20,000 in four days for the lawsuit.
Since February, student activists have also been putting pressure on the university to halt the People’s Park and Anchor House projects, and as a compromise, the university claimed that it creates housing options for every person who currently resides in the park which would be separate from the supportive housing units it intends to create.
There are some permanent residents at the park, but the number constantly fluctuates as people move in and out, so it would be nearly impossible to ensure that all park residents displaced by development who would like to be housed will receive housing. Even if the university follows through on its commitment, the timeline for providing that housing is bound to be extremely long and drawn out, since there is only one social worker for the park, and this promise will most likely significantly delay construction.
The other proposed LRDP project at 1921 Walnut St. would destroy one of the last rent-controlled buildings in Berkley. This is especially relevant because rent has risen dramatically in the past ten years, and the city has seen increases higher than that of San Francisco. In a recent report, about 78% of homeless individuals lived in Alameda County before becoming houseless, and 48% resided in Alameda County for more than ten years. Any rent-controlled properties should be preserved and in my personal opinion prioritized for the Black and Brown residents who have been displaced by these rent increases.
Additionally, many residents of the park have expressed wanting to stay because relocation would destroy the community, and the housing options provided may not adequately support them or their needs. Many affordable housing units also require that tenants are sober, which would likely exclude many of the current park residents.
When taking efforts from community groups, students and Bay Area activists into account, the future of the aforementioned LRDP’s proposed housing projects looks bleak.
The university has alternatives that could simultaneously avoid this problem and still provide student housing, but it refuses to prioritize these options.
Potential delays in meeting the current housing demand could be avoided by scrapping the proposed construction projects in the Southside of UC Berkeley and, instead, building on the Hill East Campus and sites such as Clark Kerr campus. In the current LRDP, Hill East Campus is being prioritized for the construction of infrastructure. The university also refuses to build additional housing on Clark Kerr, another site where housing could be added without displacing current residents, for seemingly aesthetic reasons.
It is ridiculous that the needs of students and community members are not being prioritized and that the university is, instead, choosing to focus on profits and aesthetics. In its current state, the LRDP is more focused on reducing third-party costs than truly exploring housing options.
As a university with an endowment of nearly $5 billion and a portion of its students having experienced homelessness, this is a conscious decision to prioritize profits over the wellbeing of students and community members. This is in direct opposition to the university’s purpose as a public institution, and the administration’s actions must reflect these priorities.
Amanda Hill is a current ASUC Senator, activist and student researcher.