Judge gives UC Berkeley OK to build at People's Park

An Alameda County judge ruled Friday evening that the University of California at Berkeley can build housing on People's Park, which is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

Judge Frank Roesch denied the petitions by three groups including two citizen groups following three and a half hours of testimony in Alameda County Superior Court in Oakland. 

At least one citizen group has obtained a stay of demolition to keep the university from starting construction. Otherwise, the groups could be arguing in court while the university starts building. An appeal of Roesch's decision is likely.

"We are prepared to appeal," said Harvey Smith, president of Peoples Park Historic District Advocacy Group, one of the three groups suing the university over its plans. 

UC Berkeley wants to build student housing at People's Park and housing for disadvantaged groups including homeless people. Part of the park would remain as open space and part would honor the park's historic significance. 

At least part of the significance derives from the role it played during the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s and '70s. 

Smith emphasized, as in the past, that he thinks the university has alternatives. One such alternative is a parking structure just over a block from People's Park at Channing Way and Ellsworth Street.

MORE: People's Park dispute over homeless-resident relocations escalates in Berkeley

Smith said the structure is seismically unsafe. Built to 1958 building codes, Smith said that the university knows the site is a ripe alternative, and his group could support that choice. 

"Why save a parking structure and destroy a park," Smith said, especially considering climate change. 

"We're pleased with the judge's decision," UC Berkeley spokesperson Dan Mogulof said by phone. 

University officials are looking forward to the judge making his ruling official on Monday "just as we look forward to starting construction this summer," Mogulof said.

The university had no further comment Friday evening.