Appeals court temporarily halts construction, further demolition at People’s Park following protests

Photo of People's Park deconstruction
Gavin Sagastume/Staff

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Update 8/3/22: This article has been updated to reflect an announcement by UC Berkeley that construction on People’s Park has been paused indefinitely.

Update 8/4/22: This article has been updated to reflect an announcement by UC Berkeley detailing arrests at People’s Park on Wednesday.

Update 8/5/22: This article has been updated to reflect a temporary stay order granted by the California First District Court of Appeal.

In an unannounced overnight move, UC Berkeley began the process of fencing off People’s Park for construction of student housing Wednesday morning. 

Around midnight, community members gathered at the park after receiving a “bulldozer alert” sent by the People’s Park Council. Barricades on the surrounding street intersections leading into the park blocked the entrance of pedestrians and vehicles and were guarded by both UCPD and Apex Security Group officers, a third-party security firm. 

The “antiscale” fences surrounding the park are about eight feet tall, and workers drilled the fence bases into the sidewalk — two openings into the park remain as of press time. Protesters attempted to block the fences’ construction by standing or sitting in the workers’ path.

photo of protestors sitting at people's park entrance

Riley Cooke / Senior Staff

The city of Berkeley and campus began the process of moving park residents into transitional housing early June with the intention of beginning development this summer. 

However, a July 7 stay order delayed campus’s ability to begin construction until a new ruling, issued Friday, lifted the stay, allowing the development to begin. According to Joe Liesner, a member of the People’s Park Historic District Advocacy Group, the new ruling affects all three lawsuits regarding the construction at the park.

Harvey Smith, president of the People’s Park Historic District Advocacy Group, said lawyers for the organization will submit an appeal to the new decision in an attempt to reinstate another construction prohibition. 

As of Wednesday morning, three individuals were still residing at the park, according to a campus media release, and were offered housing and support services. However, residents were told that the park was closed and camping there was no longer permitted, according to the release. 

“It’s just terribly upsetting, deflating, demoralizing,” Smith said at the protest. “The community at large, really seems like they don’t know the significance of this — in terms of space, the history, the culture.”

UCPD arrived at People’s Park around 12:30 a.m., along with three bulldozers and moving trucks manned by Norcal Moving Services. 

Officers in riot gear formed a barrier to limit access to the park. The officers wore face shields and carried batons while distributing zip ties among themselves.

photo of protestors at people's park

Riley Cooke / Senior Staff

Community members gathered in the park and outside the barricades, although their numbers dwindled as the night went on. Some participated in the protests and many captured photos and videos of the officers on their phones.

By 2 a.m., People’s Park Council members, including Andrea Prichett and Lisa Teague, staged a sit-in protest on the northwest corner of the park. A crowd of about 20 individuals consolidated around the protesters, chanting “Whose park? People’s Park!”

Over the course of the night, UCPD detained at least three protesters, the first of which happened at approximately 2:54 a.m. The man was placed in a stretcher and removed from the scene in a UCPD car.

UCPD returned to the sit-in protest’s location around 3:30 a.m. Officers bound the hands of three protesters with zip ties and removed them to a gated parking lot behind the Center for Community Innovation on Channing Way.

After placing one of the final fences around 5:23 a.m., over a dozen officers marched into the park in rank and file, with bright orange and blue tape concealing their identification numbers on helmets and vests.

As of press time, fewer than 10 residents or protesters are left inside the fences’ boundary. Workers were clearing the fences of leftover packaging materials, including bubble wrap and plastic ties.

UCPD and third-party security officers present at the park declined to comment. According to the campus media release, a press conference on the topic of Wednesday morning’s events is still pending.

The park will be closed for the duration of construction and surrounding streets will remain barricaded for several days, according to the media release. The release added that Wednesday’s planned on-site work includes tree removal and the dismantling of the park’s stage and temporary kitchen.

Defenders of People’s Park are planning a protest on Sproul Plaza at 5 p.m. Wednesday.

“We need open space now more than ever,” said Berkeley City Council candidate Aidan Hill at the park. “All of us here are very clear that if we didn’t have a place to go, this is the safest place for us.”

By noon Wednesday, crowds had grown to outnumber UCPD officers, who had lined up at the intersection of Haste Street and Bowditch Street in riot gear. Protesters began tearing down fences using wire cutters and physical force. Soon after, the officers at the scene dispersed.

As of press time, fences alongside Bowditch Street and Channing Way were uprooted and repurposed to protect the park. Some carried in police barricades from the previous night to restrict law enforcement access.

Organizers also issued requests for donations of food and resources for people who had been uprooted from the park the night before.

Photo of fences on the ground outside of People's Park

Jonathan Hale

As fences were being torn down, protesters began reentering into the park, where nearly all the trees had been cut down earlier in the day — the park was littered with the remnants of tree trunks from the morning’s tree removal activities. 

According to a campus statement this afternoon, UC Berkeley will pause construction at the park, citing unlawful protest activity and violence. The statement added that law enforcement and construction personnel have withdrawn to avoid further confrontation.

There were “multiple” arrests made, according to the statement, but details will not be available until tomorrow morning.

“The campus will, in the days ahead, assess the situation in order to determine how best to proceed with construction of this urgently needed student housing project,” the statement reads.

According to another statement from campus Thursday, seven people were arrested and two officers were injured in relation to the events at People’s Park. One person who was arrested was later transported to a hospital for minor injuries, the statement added.

Campus also alleged a “variety” of crimes at the park, including theft, vandalism and battery via push. However, the only charges made were for alleged trespassing, battery on an officer and resisting an officer.

Injuries among protesters, other than the detained individual sent for treatment, are unclear as of press time.

The California First District Court of Appeal granted a temporary stay order Thursday prohibiting all further construction and demolition at People’s Park, with the exception of landscape alterations “necessary” for public health.

However, the order does not block the erection of a security fence, and urges the appeal to be resolved “expeditiously.”

“(The court) must think there are some merits in our case,” Smith said. “With some care and maintenance and respect, I think People’s Park could go on for another half century.”

Check back for updates.

Matt Brown, Kavya Gupta and Riley Cooke contributed to this report.

Contact Matt Brown, Kavya Gupta and Riley Cooke at [email protected]rg.