UC Berkeley must accurately portray its relationship with People’s Park

CAMPUS AFFAIRS: UC Berkeley must recognize opposition to the People's Park project.

Illustration of toppling scales with People’s Park and student housing
Aishwarya Jayadeep/Senior Staff

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History is written by the winners. In the fight against building on People’s Park, the scales have been tipped in UC Berkeley’s direction after the UC Board of Regents voted to approve the campus housing project. While we continue to oppose building on People’s Park, if it’s going to happen, it needs to be done with transparency and awareness of the park’s history and community. Campus should not boast about the Free Speech Movement while sugarcoating the history of People’s Park and the opposition its development still faces.

There is no doubt that UC Berkeley must resolve its severe housing shortage, but the proposed residential facility will not address many students’ needs. While campus has suggested building on People’s Park will help provide housing for students who otherwise couldn’t afford to live in Berkeley, the new dormitory is not affordable. The housing will be priced comparable to current campus housing, for which the cheapest option is a triple that costs approximately $1,500 per month, excluding dining expenses.

According to campus, this is below-market-rate housing. Forty percent of undergraduates are unable to live in Berkeley due to the low supply of housing and high market prices. Nonuniversity housing surrounding campus is often much cheaper than campus rates — this new dormitory likely won’t be accessible to thousands of students who need affordable housing.

Campus plans to build housing for 1,100 undergraduate students as well as supportive housing for very low-income and unhoused individuals. Campus will also “revitalize” half the area as green space that will be “open and accessible to all.” This stance implies the park currently has little value, and we must also ask: Will the people who currently use and live in the park continue to find the space welcoming?

Campus must accurately represent the turmoil that surrounds its relationship with People’s Park and gain a more accurate understanding of student support for the project. According to the campuswide email announcing the decision of the UC Board of Regents, a survey found that 68% of students support the project after learning about campus’s main objectives and plans.

However, 18% of the students surveyed hadn’t yet lived on campus, and another 16% of those surveyed were sophomores, many of whom had not yet had an in-person collegiate experience. More than 40% were transfer students, some of who may not have lived on campus before completing the survey.

It’s also important to note the survey did not provide participants with more than a brief reference to the rich history of the park or how it is serving the Berkeley community and students. Survey questions were also not phrased in an unbiased manner and did not present perspectives or concerns from groups that oppose the project. UC Berkeley has the power to shape the way community members understand the project through its rhetoric.

If campus plans to thoughtfully pay homage to the park’s significance while building housing, greenspace and a memorial, it must change its approach now. The history of People’s Park must not be romanticized or erased, nor should the reality of how students feel about the project. If this survey is what campus considers “meaningful engagement” with the community, it does not provide hope that People’s Park will be respectfully memorialized.

Editorials represent the majority opinion of the editorial board as written by the fall 2021 opinion editor, Emily Hom.