Nearly two weeks after an appeals court once again temporarily blocked UC Berkeley’s construction at People’s Park, the familiar sight of tents has appeared amid the felled trees.
Many of the current residents of the park are protesters who are committed to occupying the space over the coming weeks or even months, according to Harvey Smith, president of the People’s Park Historic District Advocacy Group. Smith’s organization is also one of the plaintiffs in the ongoing California Environmental Quality Act lawsuit over the construction of housing at People’s Park.
“We wanted to make it very clear that UC had options,” Smith alleged. “The decision to build on People’s Park is more political than a reasoned, practical decision.”
According to campus spokesperson Dan Mogulof, a decision regarding the recent stay order may come in October. Should the court lift the stay order, campus is evaluating when to restart construction given the three-year construction timeline and ideal move-in dates for undergraduates.
Mogulof alleged that more than $1.5 million in damage was done by protesters, and that every month of delay could increase project costs by more than $2 million based on current inflation.
“Given that construction cannot currently proceed due to the court order, we don’t believe existing conditions warrant the use of force necessary to clear the site,” Mogulof said in an email.
The First District Court of Appeals ruled Friday that the plaintiffs must submit a brief identifying the “best feasible alternative” to the construction slated for People’s Park with regard to the environmental impact report, which identified environmental impacts and mitigation strategies for campus’s Long Range Development Plan. The UC regents are also ordered to respond with evidence of their own that they found the identified alternative to be environmentally inferior to the planned project at the park.
The plaintiffs submitted their brief Monday and the regents’ response must be filed by Wednesday. According to Smith, the plaintiffs identified several alternative locations, including the Ellsworth Parking Garage and other lots in Southside and Downtown Berkeley.
“We’re not in favor of violence; the reason that we offer alternatives is to avoid violence,” Smith said. “We’re totally in favor of student housing. Yes, build more housing, just don’t build it on People’s Park.”
In addition to occupying the park, activists have formed a barrier around the perimeter with debris from the trees that were cut down for construction before the stay order took effect. Demonstrators are also planting trees and soliciting donations of tents and other materials for current park residents.
While Mogulof alleged that anyone residing in People’s Park is “trespassing,” any unhoused people on the site will still be offered shelter and supportive services.
“It’s a small urban ecosystem that we desperately, desperately need,” Smith said. “It’s the lungs of the Southside, and it’s partially destroyed by UC.”