The park is now primarily a homeless camp, however because it has been since its counterculture founding, additionally it is extremely contested.
For years, UC Berkeley has wished to construct a big condo constructing within the roughly one-square block park that will accommodate about 1,100 college students and 125 of the town’s homeless residents.
The rich neighborhood and its allies in different components of this cramped metropolis have mentioned no, a chorus that first rang out within the park greater than a half-century in the past when it was shouted in opposition to the Vietnam Conflict.
Opponents filed a lawsuit final yr to cease the mission, and in late February, a state appeals courtroom justice in San Francisco agreed that it shouldn’t go ahead. The college has pledged to take the case to the state Supreme Court docket.
Everyone seems to be offended. Everybody has ideas.
All are spoken, some profanely.
“Just a few rich Berkeley householders shouldn’t be in a position to block desperately wanted pupil housing for years and even a long time,” the state’s liberal governor, Gavin Newsom (D), mentioned in a press release following the newest courtroom ruling.
However it isn’t a easy case of Bay Space not-in-my-backyardism — which, to make sure, is rampant within the area. A minimum of to not the teams preventing the mission and even to a few of these dwelling within the park, which sits on the southern fringe of the UC Berkeley campus in one of many metropolis’s most thickly developed neighborhoods.
“This place goes past Berkeley, past California — it’s our nation’s historical past,” mentioned Harvey Smith, a founding father of the People’s Park Historic District Advocacy Group, a plaintiff within the go well with opposing the mission.
The group fashioned a number of years in the past and contains members like Smith who stay past the park’s rapid orbit. Smith mentioned the group’s first job was to safe a spot for the park on the National Register of Historic Places, which the group did efficiently final yr.
As landmarks from that hazy period go, Woodstock and Kent State College additionally seem within the register. However Smith, who graduated from UC Berkeley and labored in its College of Public Well being as a graduate pupil, mentioned Folks’s Park is completely different.
“These locations qualify due to occasions that occurred there,” mentioned Smith, who’s 77 and retired from the nonprofit world. “However Folks’s Park is a dwelling, ongoing monument to that historical past.”
Like most debates in Berkeley, whether or not concerning the place itself or the world at giant, there are a lot of voices and plenty of reminders that this or that facet of what’s at stake is most essential or misunderstood.
However on the bodily heart of the combat is the park itself, just below three uneven acres carved up by the thick boughs of chopped-down bushes, wood-chip hillocks and homeless tents, all imbued with the heavy sense that this isn’t the place for a sunny lunch break or a twilight pinot noir.
The college, which owns the land, reduce down dozens of bushes final yr when a quick window opened for the mission to maneuver forward (a memorial was later held within the bushes’ honor). Over time, the park has been fenced and unfenced, cleared by drive, and each policed closely and ignored.
To these preventing the college, the park has been deliberately uncared for to ease the best way for a change there.
“This can be a college that runs two nationwide nuclear laboratories,” Smith mentioned, “and also you simply can’t inform me they’ll’t handle a 2.8-acre park.”
Within the late Sixties, the college took the land via eminent area, clearing homes already there to make manner for its personal building initiatives. These by no means materialized. The nascent counterculture motion stepped in and, basically, turned the place right into a stage for the rising, typically radical politics of the left that flourished within the East Bay and inside its most prestigious college.
Most of the demonstrations have been peaceable. However others have featured clouds of tear gasoline, flung rocks and bottles, and shotgun blasts. One loss of life and several other everlasting accidents are attributed to police-protester clashes on the park.
“It’s the one place the place individuals actually have an opportunity to be themselves,” mentioned Nick Alexander, a 36-year-old UC Berkeley graduate who has lived within the park throughout some onerous instances in his life. “And it may be obnoxious, to be trustworthy.”
Alexander was born in Oklahoma and raised within the foster care system, an expertise that bounced him amongst a number of states. He moved west from Indiana when he was 18, enrolled in group faculty, and later transferred to UC Berkeley.
His first go to to Folks’s Park concerned an LSD journey. He wasn’t the primary to expertise the park in that hallucinatory manner, nor the final.
Since commencement, Alexander has devoted a lot of his time to preserving the park as a spot the place individuals can come for sanctuary and meals, which he dishes out in large meaty helpings from a makeshift kitchen he has constructed there from scraps of plywood.
He mentioned he has served 20,000 meals from the kitchen, which sits within the shadow of a tree-fort crow’s nest perched between boughs of a close-by redwood. Above his kitchen flies the flag of the Insurgent Alliance, the underdog resistance to the Galactic Empire within the “Star Wars” films.
Of the college’s $312 million housing proposal, Alexander says, “I prefer it and I don’t prefer it on the identical time.” What he desires for the park is a group heart, a spot the place the town’s homeless can clear up and eat and relaxation.
“We’re part of this historical past, this legacy, and we’re preventing now in opposition to the sanitization of Berkeley,” Alexander mentioned. “A group heart alone would change the character of this place. That alone would honor its historical past.”
There are about 1,000 homeless residents in Berkeley, a metropolis that Alexander and others say has dined out for too long on a reputation as an accepting, liberal haven. It’s a wealthy place now, as are many locations that ring the San Francisco Bay.
However it is rather onerous to construct right here — even when you find yourself the flagship college of the $44 billion-a-year UC system, which is commonly seen as its personal kingdom throughout the Republic of California.
A number of of its 10 campuses are dealing with extreme housing shortages, from Davis close to Sacramento to Santa Barbara on the southern coast. UC Berkeley is correct there with them.
Final yr, the college mentioned it must deny enrollment to five,000 first-year and switch college students as a result of it couldn’t meet a set of court-ordered pupil housing necessities.
What occurred when the college informed the state it couldn’t meet the principles? The state modified the principles. The college — and, in a nod to fairness, the remainder of the state’s public universities — was given 18 months to finish any court-ordered environmental evaluate of recent pupil housing areas earlier than obligatory enrollment and admissions freezes would kick in.
“That is all about energy, the college’s and the federal government’s,” mentioned one of many park’s homeless residents, who spoke on the situation of anonymity, fearing police reprisals. “That’s all it’s.”
Town of Berkeley adopted a extremely bold housing plan two years in the past that requires the development of 9,000 houses by 2031.
The place these houses will rise when even constructing on a patch of uncared for land in the midst of a residential neighborhood requires a state Supreme Court docket opinion is anybody’s guess.
The authorized debate pivots on CEQA, an acronym that sends a chill down the backbone of each California builder. See-kwa, because the acronym is spoken in on a regular basis vernacular right here, is seen by many throughout the state’s political spectrum as a multi-legged monster that chokes out a lot of California’s best-laid housing, water conservation and transportation plans.
Nearly as previous as Folks’s Park itself, the California Environmental High quality Act was supposed to require a rigorous evaluate of almost facet of almost each proposed building mission. That objective appeared simply positive earlier than the state’s homeless inhabitants swelled to 170,000 individuals, a 3rd of the nation’s complete.
Now CEQA has develop into a goal. In a state authorities that hardly ever finds a regulation it doesn’t love, California political leaders agree that this one is in dire want of restore.
And the Folks’s Park case, amongst a lot of the opposite historical past it has raised, highlighted CEQA’s broad mandate to impede but once more.
In his opinion, Justice Gordon B. Burns mentioned the college had didn’t adequately contemplate different websites for the mission, which CEQA requires. Opponents argue that there are a lot of different websites — maybe greater than a dozen — extra appropriate within the metropolis for large-scale pupil housing.
However the justice added that the college additionally didn’t take into consideration noise from “loud pupil events” in choosing the location, a line that for CEQA haters mentioned all there wanted to be mentioned a couple of metastasizing regulation.
So what’s the way forward for this scruffy patch of historical past, captured for right now’s generations largely in black-and-white photographs of hippies squaring off in opposition to helmeted Nationwide Guard troops?
Neither facet appears able to again down.
Smith, founding father of the park advocacy group, desires the park to be, properly, a park like the various well-tended others in Berkeley. Alexander, who runs the park’s kitchen, desires a group heart. The college desires housing, which it says is essential to preserving enrollment numbers within the state’s politically fortified citadel of upper schooling.
There are about 15 tents within the park commonly, and in considered one of them lives Malik bin-Saud. He’s 48 years previous and has lived within the park on and off for all however 18 of them.
He’s planning to stay the place he’s, the form of sentiment that has animated many happenings on the park.
“I’m not going to go away this group hanging,” Saud mentioned. “I’m not going to go away right here with out doing one thing about it.”
Whatever the final result, an epitaph of types for Folks’s Park.