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UC Berkeley erects massive barricade of 160 shipping containers around People's Park

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Jan 5, 2024, 3:51:50 AMJan 5
Nearly 100 protesters gathered for a rally Thursday morning near the
historic People’s Park in Berkeley, hours after police swarmed the space
overnight, removing people and barricading the park, anticipating its
transformation into a housing site.

Protesters chanted, “Hey, hey, what do you say, People’s Park is here to
stay,” at the corner of Telegraph Avenue and Haste Street as about 50
police officers in riot gear stood by and watched. The protest comes as
crews placed dozens of double-stacked shipping containers around the
perimeter of the park, closing it off at the corner of Channing Way and
Bowditch Street, and just halfway down the block on Dwight Way and Haste
Street — to the dismay of activists and some residents near the park.
Several large trees had also been chopped down; the scent of eucalyptus
drifted through the air. About a dozen workers in white hazmat suits
sorted through debris at the park early in the morning.

“I’m trying really hard not to cry,” said Lisa Teague, a 64-year-old
resident who has lived across from the park for nearly 13 years. “It makes
me mad and sad.”

Just after midnight, UC Berkeley began efforts to close off the park to
the public in preparation for the construction of a controversial student
housing project. The university sent out a release before 1 a.m.
confirming plans to block off the park as a “closed construction zone,”
and hundreds of police and California Highway Patrol officers, some in
riot gear, barricaded the streets within two blocks of the park.

Overnight, about 60 protesters held a vigil at the park before police
forced them to leave and arrested seven for trespassing and failing to
disperse. The seven people were cited and released at the park, according
to a university spokesperson. UC Berkeley students are on winter break
until next week.

The university intends to build a student housing project at the 2.8-acre
site for 1,100 students and a separate building for permanent supportive
housing for very-low income and formerly unhoused people. The move to
close the park comes nearly a year after a state appeals court ruled that
UC Berkeley failed to adequately analyze environmental concerns of its
proposed student housing project. The case is now with the state Supreme
Court and remains unresolved. A court hearing has not yet been scheduled.

UC Berkeley said in a statement that the courts “have repeatedly affirmed
the university’s ability to enforce the site’s legal status as a closed
construction zone.” UC Berkeley Chancellor Carol Christ said in a
statement that the university decided to take “this necessary step” to
secure the site with minimal disruption in preparation for “when we are
cleared to resume construction.”

UC Berkeley previously attempted to close off the park in August 2022 for
housing construction, but protesters successfully blocked their efforts.
Dan Mogulof, a university spokesperson, said Thursday that the use of
shipping containers was a sturdy solution after the incident in August
where the fence “was not sufficient to withstand attacks on it by people
who were ready and willing to engage in vandalism.”

The shipping containers will remain at the site until at least
construction begins, if the courts permit the university to move forward
with its plans. No decisions have been made yet on whether the shipping
containers will stay at the park through construction, Mogulof said.

Some residents who live near the park expressed concern about having to
see stacks of large, yellow and red shipping containers outside their
front door. Teague, who was formerly homeless in Oakland before landing an
apartment by People’s Park with the help of a Section 8 housing voucher,
said she is accustomed to looking out her window every day and seeing the

“They have taken our attractive green space,” Teague said.

The university intends to use 60% of the site as revitalized green space
open to all and plans to include a memorial of the site’s past and
historical significance. But Teague said she would likely feel
uncomfortable visiting the space once it’s turned into a dormitory.

Michael Lang has lived on Dwight Way directly across from the park for 34
years. Standing in the shadows of the double-stacked containers now lining
his block, Lang said the overnight work in the park was intrusive, with
“garish, Kafkaesque, prison-yard light” flooding his apartment. And he
wasn’t looking forward to facing a wall of containers every day when he
walked outside. Lang said he understands the need for more housing but
believes there were ways to go about building homes on the park land and
preserving some open space.

“This is very unneighborly,” Lang said.

Opponents of the project argue that People’s Park, which has long been a
site linked to free speech and civil rights issues, should be preserved as
a historic space and that the university should look at other sites for
housing. The park has also long been a haven for the homeless.

The university, which provides housing for only 23% of its students, the
lowest rate in the University of California system, says it needs to
address the student housing crisis, as well as fires and crime in the

“We were compelled to act in support of unhoused people in the park who
are being targeted by criminals, and in support of our commitment to
provide our students, and members of the community, with the safety and
security they need and deserve,” said UCPD Chief Yogananda Pittman, who
was the interim chief for the U.S. Capitol Police in Washington, D.C.,
during the Jan. 6, 2021, riots. “It became clear we needed to close the
site and that it would take extraordinary preemptive measures to do so
given that some of the project’s opponents have little regard for the

The university is unable to move forward with construction until the court
cases are resolved.

During Thursday’s protest, demonstrators expressed concern about what
could be lost if People’s Park is transformed into housing. Coco Rosos,
21, born and raised in Berkeley, said she’s long appreciated the community
centered around People’s Park. She said she worried that people who called
the park home will lose not only a place to sleep, but the community they
relied on.

“I wouldn’t have met the people there and had that community without
People’s Park,” Rosos said. “What if it was just full of students and rich

Reach Erin Allday:; Twitter: @erinallday. Reach
Sarah Ravani:; Twitter: @SarRavani
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