By Meghan Hall
A hotly-debated residential project in Berkeley has been formally–and overwhelmingly–approved. This week, the U.C. Board of Regents voted 17-1 to move forward with a $312 million development that would rise on a portion of Berkeley’s well-known People’s Park. The project has both its supporters–who argue that additional residential housing is desperately needed–and its opponents, who believe the People’s Park should be preserved as is, at all costs.
The project intends to build housing for up to 1,113 students, as well as include 100 units designated specifically for extremely low-income, unhoused or formerly unhoused people. 1.7 acres of the site will remain as landscaped open space. The student housing component of the project will include studios to four-bedroom units.
The project’s buildings are designed by LMS Architects and Hood Design Studio, according to public documents. The master planning of the project was done by SITELAB urban studio.
The project will take up about 1.1 acres of the 2.8-acre People’s Park. The Regents of the University of California acquired the 2.8 site on which the People’s Park sits in the summer of 1967. At the time, the Regents spent $1.3 million to purchase the property, which was acquired through eminent domain. The Regents intended to construct athletic fields on the property, and eventually, student housing, as well.
However, as the Regents moved to demolish the property to make way for new development, progress stalled as funds ran thin. Students, local business owners and others came together to build the park, laying landscaping and creating places for community members to gather while the site sat idle. The park was completed in the spring of 1969. Shortly thereafter, however, the UC announced plans to move forward with redevelopment of the site.
Clashes between students, police and protestors came to a head on “Bloody Thursday,” which resulted in the death of James Rector and the blinding of Alan Blanchard. Since then, development at the property has been protested for decades by various members of the local Berkeley community. Aside from a place to gather, the park has become a hub for food distribution and mutual aid programs.
Supporters of the park’s preservation argue that its legacy and place in the Berkeley community is too pivotal to be built over with development. Organizations such as Save the People’s Park and the People’s Park Historic District Advocacy Group are working to file lawsuits in an effort to challenge the U.C. ‘s development plans.
“Student housing can be built elsewhere: The city and campus community must prevent UC Berkeley and private corporations from decimating People’s Park’s precious public community green gathering space,” states Save the People’s Park’s website.
Proponents of the project state that the housing is desperately needed. Currently, U.C. Berkeley can only house 23 percent of its students, the lowest out of any University of California campus. The university turned away some 5,000 students this past year due to capacity issues. The number of beds that U.C. Berkeley has to house its students just a fraction of other major university campuses, such as UCLA and U.C. Irvine.
U.C. Berkeley’s real estate holdings include about 150 buildings; however, over the past 20 years the university has rapidly outgrown the confines of its campus. Between 1998 and 2010, the University worked to increase its admissions by about 16 percent. The university has struggled significantly to make a meaningful dent in a number of its real estate plans.
How the U.C. Regents’ plans for the People’s Park will play out remains to be seen. In addition to potential litigation, the university will be responsible for housing about 48 individuals who currently call the park home while construction is ongoing. If, all however, goes according to plan, construction of the project could begin in 2022, and the development could be completed in several years thereafter.