Arrests made at Berkeley’s People’s Park as controversial construction restarts

Berkeley Police suit up in preparation for demonstration in protest of the removal of occupants of People's Park in Berkeley on Jan. 4, 2024. (Ruth Dusseault/BCN)

Seven people were arrested at Berkeley’s People’s Park as fencing was put up in preparation for a controversial construction project to build housing for students and formerly unhoused people on the public park.

Fencing and double-stacked shipping containers will continue to be installed over the next three to four days and surrounding streets will be closed off for about six days, according to a university spokesperson.

Opponents fought the University of California, Berkeley’s plan to build on the site when construction began in August 2022, but they were dealt a setback when Gov. Gavin Newsom signed a bill last year that was unanimously backed by the state Legislature to exempt the university from a requirement to consider alternative sites for the project.

The arrests Thursday morning were for trespassing, with two also arrested for failure to disperse, according to the university. They were cited and released after being booked into jail.

An appeal on the university’s construction project is still being heard by the state Supreme Court, but the university said it has the legal right to close off the construction zone while the case is litigated.

“Given that the existing legal issues will inevitably be resolved, we decided to take this necessary step now in order to minimize disruption for the public and our students when we are eventually cleared to resume construction,” UC Berkeley Chancellor Carol Christ said in a statement.

“Unfortunately, our planning and actions must take into account that some of the project’s opponents have previously resorted to violence and vandalism, despite strong support for the project on the part of students, community members, advocates for unhoused people, the elected leadership of the City of Berkeley, as well as the Legislature and governor of the state of California,” Christ said.

Rubble from demolished dwellings after backhoes construction crews moved into the People’s Park, Berkeley on Jan. 4, 2024. (Ruth Dusseault/BCN)

The plan calls for building housing for 1,100 students and a separate building with 100 apartments for low-income, formerly unhoused people, but activists have fought against the displacement of unhoused people currently living in the park and development on a green space.

The plan would preserve 60 percent of the 2.8-acre park’s green space and the park would remain open to the public. People living in the park have been offered transitional housing.

Video posted to social media showed trees being cut down and carried by heavy machinery overnight Wednesday into Thursday morning.

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