A land survey crew began preparations for construction at Berkeley’s People’s Park this week, although it’s unclear when — or if — California’s Supreme Court will give them clearance to begin.
In February, a state appellate court ruled against construction on the site, pointing to potential noise pollution and University of California, Berkeley’s failure to assess alternative building sites.
However, on Sept. 24, Gov. Gavin Newsom signed Assembly Bill 1307, which had unanimous support from the state Legislature and addressed the noise pollution issue for residential projects and exempted higher education institutions from having to consider alternative locations for projects if certain requirements are met.
“We hope and believe it won’t be too long,” UC Berkeley spokesperson Dan Mogulof said. “We do believe that the legislation that was passed and signed by the governor remedied the appellate court ruling, but again, it’s up to the Supreme Court, not for us to decide, and so we’ll see.”
While UC Berkeley waits on the court’s decision, Nicholas Alexander, a community organizer and former unhoused resident of People’s Park, is once again preparing to protest construction at the site.
Alexander believes that the park’s security will be higher than in the past due to a Aug. 3, 2022, protest that shut down construction on the site.
“We heard concrete fences, we’ve heard so many different things and — considering that they got utterly humiliated on the third — they had to change their strategies, obviously,” Alexander said.
Community organizers from several different groups plan to meet at 4 p.m. Friday at People’s Park to strategize their opposition to the project.
UC Berkeley’s administration does not discuss security arrangements for public safety reasons, according to Mogulof, but he confirmed the site will be blocked from public access when construction begins, if cleared by the court.
“The site will not be open, not after the millions of dollars in damage and vandalism that occurred last summer,” Mogulof said. “We have real dismay and real opposition to any illegal means to prevent the construction of a project if it is certified as a legal project by the Supreme Court.”
Berkeley resident Ian Hunt lived in People’s Park for a year and a half before being placed in housing, less than one block from the site, 18 months ago.
“If there’s construction noise, I think there’s gonna be a giant riot,” Hunt said. “There is no way this neighborhood will possibly tolerate that.”
Hunt expects People’s Park regulars to end up spending their time “in the middle of Telegraph Avenue, [and] anywhere we can” once the area is blocked from public access.
Despite this opposition, 62 percent of UC Berkeley students support construction on the site, according to a May 2022 campus survey, and the state Legislature showed unanimous support via AB 1307.
About 60 percent of the park will remain open green space, according to UC Berkeley’s website for the project, and non-students will still be permitted to use it. The construction is expected to take about two years, according to Mogulof.
Amy Jones just settled into living at People’s Park two days ago and — expedited by the time she spent there in her 20s — she already feels connected to it.
“People stopped by and asked me if I’m OK,” Jones said. “They dropped off resources to me, I found an extra blanket without even having to ask at all. They’re very very generous and kind.”
“I didn’t come here to stand for People’s Park, but at the same time, like, I don’t know if I want to leave until it is over with,” Jones said.