Campus spokesperson Dan Mogulof discussed the recent People’s Park developments with People’s Park Historic District Advocacy Group President Harvey Smith and Berkeleyside housing and homelessness reporter Supriya Yelimeli in a KQED forum Wednesday morning.
According to Mogulof, campus’s vision for student housing began forming five years ago, due to an “urgent student housing crisis.” Mogulof said 20% of campus students do not live in the city of Berkeley and that 10% of students report being unhoused at any given time; campus’s solution is to provide 8,000 new beds for all incoming students.
“Our students are in the private market, driving up rents for working people in the city of Berkeley, so we need to address that,” Mogulof said at the forum. “In order to address that, we need to build on every single piece of university property in close proximity to campus.”
However, Smith, echoing his earlier statement, called the plan to build on People’s Park “the wrong approach.” Smith supported his claim by emphasizing the lack of open spaces on Southside, which he noted is the most heavily populated part of the city.
Smith claimed that campus’s plan to preserve 60% of the park as green space does not honor the park’s history, adding that the park was recently placed on the National Register of Historic Places.
“This debate goes beyond Berkeley, it goes beyond California,” Smith said at the forum. “People from all over the country, in fact, from all over the world, come to Berkeley and ask ‘where’s the park?’ ”
Smith noted that an alternative to building housing on People’s Park would be to maintain it as an open plot of land, akin to green spaces within campus and throughout the city. He alleged that the park has been neglected in recent years and denounced messaging that suggested the park is an “epicenter of crime” in the city.
A campus graduate called into the forum, alleging that campus’s efforts to house park residents failed to provide adequate services, citing a recent report from Where Do We Go? Berkeley. The graduate also said they took issue with Mogulof’s claim that park residents were simply “sitting around in the dirt,” citing their own experiences working with local aid organizations.
In response, Mogulof maintained that the current services offered to unhoused park residents are an improvement over its previous state. Mogulof also clarified that the city of Berkeley is the supervising body over the services provided at the Rodeway Inn; however, the daytime drop-in center, located at and managed by the First Presbyterian Church, is funded by both campus and the city.
“Is it a work in progress? Are we learning as we’re going? Absolutely,” Mogulof said at the forum. “But to argue that somehow … what we had before in the park, no showers, no services, no counseling, no employment guidance, that that’s somehow preferable to what’s on offer at the First Presbyterian Church? That doesn’t make sense to me.”