The UC Board of Regents’ Financial and Capital Strategies Committee recommended approval for a student housing project located on People’s Park during its meeting Wednesday.
The proposed high-rise building would provide 1,100 beds for UC Berkeley students, according to UC Berkeley Capital Strategies Associate Vice Chancellor John Arvin. The project is proposed amid a housing crisis that made UC Berkeley deny 5,000 continuing students campus housing this fall, according to UC Berkeley Chancellor Carol Christ.
“This is the most critical problem that Berkeley is facing,” Christ said at the meeting. “Berkeley is a land-constrained campus, and we have to use every piece of land that we have in order to meet our goals for student housing.”
Campus would only proceed with construction once it has a plan to ensure access to shelter and services for the 40 to 50 homeless people residing in People’s Park, according to Christ.
Though the project has been met by student and community protests for years, according to Christ, the project has the support of the site’s neighbors, a majority of UC Berkeley students and local elected officials, including Berkeley Mayor Jesse Arreguín, who expressed his support for the plan during the public comment period of the Regents’ board meeting.
“We all know that People’s Park has a long and storied history,” Arreguín said in the meeting. “I believe now is the time for a new vision for the park, one where we can honor its rich history and address the challenges of our time.”
However, others voiced their opposition to the plan. Max Ventura, a member of the People’s Park Council, described the park as “part of the lungs” of Southside, denouncing campus’s plans as “irresponsible” and “reckless.”
UC-affiliated nurses, lecturers and union representatives also advocated for fair wages, flexible work options and merit-based retention during the board meeting.
“Treat us in private the way you advertise us in public, as heroes who show up everyday for our patients and our communities,” said UC Irvine Health nurse Jade Francis in the meeting.
Regents in the Academic and Student Affairs Committee were then provided with updates regarding student basic needs on campus, diversity efforts across campuses and state funding allocations.
Yvette Gullatt, graduate, undergraduate and equity affairs vice president for the UC Office of the President, or UCOP, noted four areas of slow growth in regard to campus diversity, including low yield rates for African American and Native American students, lower numbers of women in some STEM fields and the lack of diversity in senior management.
Regent Lark Park noted the low percentage of Black students who said they felt like they belonged and were respected on campus.
“I want to urge us to put some real muscle into moving these numbers,” Park said at the meeting. “Other numbers are harder to move, but there are many tools at our disposal … I would just really encourage (using them) so the next time we take a look at this, we see this has vastly improved.”
However, student Regent Alexis Zaragoza added that the numbers likely will not increase until students can actively see other people who look like them, not just in a teaching role, but also as peers in their classes.
The Public Engagement and Development Committee opened with Sen. Robert Hertzberg commending the UC’s employment policies during the pandemic.
UC Cooperative Extension forester Ryan Tompkins added that California’s forests are denser, younger and more homogenous than in previous years, making them more vulnerable to “uncharacteristic, high-severity” wildfires.
Tompkins suggested using prescribed burns to better manage fire risks around susceptible communities and introducing wildfire preparedness curriculums to residents.
During the Governance Committee meeting, an incentive award for $1,384,416 to Jagdeep Singh Baccher, UCOP chief investment officer and vice president of investments, was approved, as well as the appointment and compensation for Katherine Yelick as UC Berkeley vice chancellor for research.
An item recommending an amendment to the policy on public access was also approved by the Governance Committee. The amendment suggested permanently allowing participants to call in — a measure put in place during the COVID-19 pandemic — in addition to extending the public comment time from 20 minutes to 30 minutes per day.
“We’re bringing this forward as a way to really enhance the ability of the public to participate,” Regent Chair Cecilia Estolano said at the meeting. “Many, many more folks have been able to participate (by calling in to virtual meetings) and we’ve been able to hear their views, so we want to continue the practice.”
The regents will reconvene for another board meeting tomorrow, in which they are expected to discuss fall reopening plans and COVID-19 impacts on higher education.