Housing doesn't belong at People's Park, some activists say

There is a battle brewing over the future of historic People’s Park in Berkeley.

UC Berkeley says it is committed to building housing for students and the low income at People’s Park and four other sites it owns.

But advocates for the park say that is not the place to build housing and rallied at an open house held on campus by the university officials. They say the park should remain an open space for community use. They were loud and passionate as they rallied at the open house held on campus Monday.

"We definitely need more housing and I see that, but accomplish the same goals without inflicting on this historical landmark," sais Austine Peng, a UC Berkeley student.  

Last May, People's Park advocates commemorated the 50th anniversary of "Bloody Thursday." In 1969, protests against UC Berkeley's plans to turn the park into an athletic field became violent.

"People have died for People's Park. People have been hurt. National guards have come here," said Austine Peng.

Other students say the park needs improvements, but not housing.

"If it's really special, they should do something about it," said Jaileen Perez, a UC Berkeley student.  

UC Berkeley, however, owns People's Park.  It plans to build student housing that can  accommodate 950 to 1,200 beds. A nonprofit will also provide 100 apartment units for low income tenants on the site.

"This housing initiative will make a very big difference in the housing supply in Berkeley," said UC Berkeley's spokesman Kyle Gibson with Capital Strategies.

Gibson said  one third of the 2.8-acre park may remain open space to honor the historical significance of the park and that the school wants to have input from students and the community.

"We're going to incorporate their thoughts and ideas --especially as it relates to People's Park," he said, "as it relates to its legacy and memory." 

School officials said the size, scope and design of the project are still in the planning stages.

Resources for Community Development,  the nonprofit that would be providing  apartments for the low income, said this type of housing is in the spirit of the park's legacy. . 

"The community coming together and helping those who are pushed out and priced out," said Alicia Klein with the nonprofit.   

UC Berkeley said there will be two more open houses to discuss housing at People's Park: one in March and another in April.

Its goal is to start construction in the  fall of 2021 with an opening date in 2024.