After the UC Board of Regents approved UC Berkeley’s plans to build housing on People’s Park, the campus and city community responded with varying degrees of support and criticism.
The plan involves the construction of a new residential facility to house 1,100 undergraduate students, along with supportive housing for unhoused and low-income individuals. According to campus spokesperson Dan Mogulof, construction at People’s Park will only begin once campus establishes a daytime gathering alternative to the park and connects those currently living there to relevant services.
“Those are all things that are very consistent with the founding ideals of the park,” Mogulof said. “We can and must do better as a society for unhoused people than simply providing them with an outdoor place to put their tents.”
To connect people living in the park to proper resources, campus hired Ari Neulight, a homeless outreach coordinator, in July 2017. He said his work extends beyond People’s Park into the broader Southside neighborhood, where he checks in with unhoused people and supports them on the path to housing. Neulight added that he has found housing for 80 people so far.
Proponents of the project include Berkeley Mayor Jesse Arreguín and Councilmember Rigel Robinson, who noted that the creation of permanent housing for both students and unhoused individuals will help mitigate gentrification. In a statement to the Board of Regents, Robinson cited the shortage of high-density student housing as a factor driving students to flood the local housing market .
“We are all aware of the history of People’s Park, but the reality is the vision for the park over 50 years ago is no longer reflected in its current condition,” Arreguín said in an email.
However, some students and community members voiced their opposition to the project, citing confusion about the details of construction and fears that the legacy of People’s Park will be forgotten.
Anu Thirunarayanan, a campus junior, said the housing project would “completely erase” the history of the park. Thirunarayanan added that as campus builds more student housing, it will become more difficult for Berkeley residents and low-income students to find places to live.
Lisa Teague, a member of the People’s Park Committee, called on campus to be more transparent about its processes for the housing project. Teague also noted that the changing nature of the housing plans has caused anxiety and fear among the park’s community members.
“It’s a fundamental disconnect between what the chancellor is saying … and what is actually going on,” said Nicholas Alexander, executive director of the People’s Park Kitchen. “If Carol Christ would have the courage to sit with us and have these hard discussions, we’re willing to have them.”