Save People’s Park: A follow-up

Illustration of overhead view of People's Park
Cynthia Shi/File

Related Posts

Earlier this summer, we published an editorial regarding the planned development of student housing on People’s Park. Through further communication with both UC Berkeley and the city of Berkeley, we have since issued a correction and two clarifications on the original piece. However, we stand by our initial stance. We would like to use this editorial to provide a more in-depth explanation.

Since its founding in 1969, People’s Park has been home to countless houseless individuals in Berkeley. It has served as the prime location for political events, performances and recreation, among countless other affairs. From these, a community bloomed, and it has quickly become a cultural and historical landmark. 

Also since its founding, however, People’s Park has been a source of conflict between campus, students and the city. In fact, just 24 days after its founding, violence broke out after the university wanted to build housing on the land, resulting in one death. It has come full circle today, where campus and the city are also currently experiencing pushback as they proceed with new plans of building student housing on People’s Park. 

And for good reason. Ultimately, no matter the city’s work to provide supportive housing for residents of People’s Park, the park’s decades worth of history and culture will not be preserved. 

The alternative housing at Rodeway Inn also appears to have issues. In our previous editorial, we wrote that some issues had not been addressed; however, this is not entirely accurate based on new information. 

Since then, we have spoken to city and campus representatives, who admitted there were concerns about the quality of food among the residents, but said the issues have been fixed. Abode Services, the nonprofit in charge of managing the program at Rodeway, organized a taste test and gave the residents of Rodeway Inn the opportunity to vote on a favorite. 

However, other allegations still persist. In a 19-page audit of the services at Rodeway Inn compiled by Where Do We Go? Berkeley, other grievances are listed, including allegations of a lack of privacy and unreasonable curfews. 

In response, a spokesperson of Abode Services has said that none of the claims from the report are verifiable or currently requiring further investigation, but if the information rises to a level of credibility, the organization will investigate and resolve the issues. 

While we don’t know the current exact living conditions in Rodeway Inn, if the unfortunate allegations are true, Abode ought to act swiftly to alleviate the concerns. Regardless, in order to confirm that relocated residents are not struggling to access these basic needs, there needs to be greater transparency regarding sustenance, privacy and curfews – clarifying the steps that are being taken to address these potential issues. Simply denying allegations, even if they are false, does not reveal the true conditions at the alternative housing site — information about the conditions of the inn need to be made available to the public, in order to keep campus and the city accountable to the public.

As campus says, being able to alleviate the urgent student housing crisis right now is undeniably important. However, is it truly justifiable when it means taking another person’s community away? 

Based on past events, many Berkeley residents don’t seem to think so. Despite all of the commotion brought about by the most recent plans of development, it is far from the first time campus has attempted to take control of People’s Park. 

For years, campus has tried to develop on the land, including trying to build a soccer field and volleyball courts. Although it got as far as clearing the park and building two volleyball courts in the ’90s, local activists continued to protest so fiercely that it became too expensive to maintain them. Campus eventually chose to remove them just a few years later. 

Conversely, UC Berkeley argues the majority of students today support the construction of housing at the park, citing a Qualtrics survey conducted last fall which found that 68% of students surveyed support the project. However, we must consider the conditions under which the data was collected. 

While the poll did find that 68% of students surveyed support the project, 18% of the students surveyed for the poll had yet to live on campus, and 16% of the students were sophomores who hadn’t had a fully in-person college experience due to the COVID-19 pandemic. More than 40% of the students surveyed were transfer students, many of whom likely had yet to go through a normal academic year.

The results of this survey may not be as relevant in a typical, nonpandemic year given that many of these students had not lived on campus.

We reaffirm that People’s Park should not be land for the city and campus to develop on, given its rich history and culture. Campus should take more consideration before progressing with development by collecting timely information and more heavily weighting the cultural importance of the park. 

If the plans are already in full swing, the city and campus must be more transparent in their efforts to guarantee relocated residents basic necessities. The houseless population is already particularly vulnerable and fragile as it is, making it all the more important to ease their transition out of the park.

As for People’s Park itself, building on the land will inevitably erase it as a local landmark. As Berkeley residents, we must preserve its culture and history. We must continue fighting to save People’s Park. 

Editorials represent the majority opinion of the editorial board as written by the summer 2022 opinion editor, Manya Zhao.