‘Keep fighting’: People’s Park Council calls on RCD to pull out of UC development plans

photo of a rally
Vani Suresh/Staff
People's Park Council members rallied and held a street fair to protest against the University of California's development plans for building student housing on People's Park.

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The People’s Park Council held a rally and street fair Wednesday against People’s Park development plans outside Resources for Community Development, or RCD, offices.

The rally featured several speakers and musical performances against building on People’s Park. Speakers called on RCD, a nonprofit housing organization hired to develop People’s Park, to drop out of the University of California’s development plan.

“Resources for Community Development used to be on the right side of housing. They would never have partnered with someone (UC) who, only two blocks from here, is destroying rent-controlled housing,” said Carol Denney, People’s Park Committee member and People’s Park Historic District Advocacy Group co-founder, during the event. “We’re trying to get RCD to maintain their good reputation — they have one, but they’re about to lose it.”

She added that she once was a partner with RCD, and they rehabilitated her own building 30 years ago. Denney spoke against building on a park when there are numerous units in Berkeley that can be rehabilitated, which she said is the “greenest” way to approach housing in a climate crisis.

Harvey Smith, member of the People’s Park Historic District Advocacy Group, noted that as a nonprofit scrapping for funds, RCD sees the People’s Park project as a free ground lease and a great deal. People’s Park Council member Joe Liesner added campus support would enable RCD to build twice as many units.

“Sure they want to build affordable housing, but look where they’re building it. It does make a difference,” Smith said. “As a nonprofit they’re going to have to look at their ethics and ask ‘Well is this really true to our mission?’ ”

Aidan Hill, former Berkeley mayoral candidate and People’s Park Committee member questioned why it was necessary to build on green space and suggested building on University House or renovating dilapidated and unused buildings instead.

Smith also said campus picked the “two worst” building sites to develop first out of all the properties they own and called the Ellsworth Parking Structure the “right” place to build for both campus and RCD.

According to campus spokesperson Dan Mogulof, however, campus is in the middle of planning and developing numerous sites for student housing aside from People’s Park and must build on every available campus-owned site to meet their goals.

“We decided on People’s Park because it’s the only site that will also allow the university to uphold its commitment to unhoused people who live in this city,” Mogulof said. “We will not be dissuaded by people who want to stand in the way of our efforts to address a student housing crisis and to support permanent housing for people in our community.”

People’s Park was also nominated to the National Register of Historic Places, according to Smith. While Smith said the recognition is another way to fight building on the park, Mogulof noted National Register listings are honorific and are not incompatible with the university’s plans to build on People’s Park.

Liesner called the conflict over building on People’s Park a “long, long fought battle” and Smith rallied participants to continue fighting.

“We’ve got lots of battles to fight, but what are we going to do?” Smith said at the event. “Keep fighting!”

Contact Vani Suresh at [email protected], and follow her on Twitter at @vanisuresh_.