People’s Park celebrated its 49th anniversary on April 29, 2018. Photo: Ted Friedman

UC Berkeley plans to build housing for as many as 700 students in People’s Park, the San Francisco Chronicle is reporting.

Chancellor Carol Christ will soon announce the plans, which also includes supportive housing for 100 homeless people and an ample area for open space for the park, according to the newspaper. Berkeleyside has independently confirmed that plans are in the works and that Christ had intended to release the information on May 9.

However, Dan Mogulof, a university spokesman, said Wednesday morning that the article is “not entirely accurate and certainly incomplete.” He said that “plans aren’t finalized and therefore we don’t and can’t have any comment at this point.”

However, an official announcement may come soon, he said.

“There is a group of senior administrators that has been working hard on the housing issue,” Mogulof said in an email. “I believe that current plans are aiming at an official, comprehensive announcement about the next step in our efforts to address the student housing crisis sometime next week.”

Berkeley Mayor Jesse Arreguín expressed support for the idea of building housing in the park, which celebrated its 49th birthday last weekend.

“For many decades this was the third rail of politics in Berkeley, but today I think there is a desire to look at something different,” Arreguín told the Chronicle.

Arreguín declined to talk to Berkeleyside Wednesday.

Not everyone is so sanguine about the idea of changing People’s Park, which was created after the university — ironically — bought the land in 1968 and demolished the housing on it with the intent of eventually constructing student dorms.

In April 1969, a number of activists, including Michael Delacour and Wendy Schlesinger, went to the lot, planted some grass and flowers, and declared it a park. When the university tried to erect a chain-link fence around the land, protests broke out. Then Gov. Ronald Reagan sent in the National Guard on May 15, 1969, and the fight intensified. With more than 4,000 people gathered around the park, Alameda County Sheriff’s deputies used shotguns to control the crowd, killing James Rector in the process.

“We need housing,” said Osha Neumann, an attorney and advocate for homeless people who designed the 1976 mural depicting the history of the park and Telegraph Avenue that is painted on the side of Amoeba Records near the park. “We need housing for students. We need housing for people who are homeless. I don’t think we need it there.”

Twitter lit up after the news came out. Berkeleyside asked if people anticipated protests at the news, and there were a variety of opinions:

The need for additional housing for students is acute. UC Berkeley increased its undergraduate population by 15% between 2006 and spring 2016, to 26,094 undergraduates, according to statistics cited in the university’s Master Plan Task Force report, released in January 2017.  The graduate student population increased 7% during that time, to almost 11,000 students.

Bu UC Berkeley only provides housing for 22% of its undergraduates and 9% of its graduate students, the lowest percentage of beds for its student body of any campus in the UC system.

A UC Berkeley taskforce has recommended a campus goal of housing approximately 50% of the university’s undergraduate students and 25% of its graduate students. This means about 15,600 beds are needed, while the university has only about 8,700 beds.

In January 2017, the university identified nine sites around campus that potentially could be developed for student housing. People’s Park was one of those sites. Christ chaired the taskforce that identified those locations. At the time, Nicholas Dirks was chancellor and Christ was the interim executive vice chancellor and provost.

“We know that the housing market in the Bay Area is really awful,” Christ said at the time. “Rents are expensive, housing is hard to find… and when you don’t have affordable housing close to where you’re studying, that can have a negative impact on your academic work. So this is a very high priority.”

UC Berkeley has been trying to increase the number of units for its students, by leasing out entire apartment complexes and partnering with private developers to build housing and then operate it.

David Blackwell Hall, a 750-bed residence hall under construction on Dana Street, between Bancroft Way and Durant Street, is on track to open in August 2018.

Michael Delacour, one of the founders of People’s Park, looks at a memorial set up for his first wife during the 49th anniversary celebration of the park on April 29. Photo: Ted Friedman
Crowds gathered April 29 to celebrate People’s Park 49th anniversary. Photo: Ted Friedman

Neumann said that People’s Park is one of the few places that people without homes can hang out during the day. The fact that UC Berkeley wants to build housing there reflects its continued hostility toward the park, he said.

“It is symbolic and that’s important,” he said. “Berkeley has changed enormously in the last 50 years. It is changing incredibly rapidly now. This would be both a symbolic and a real representation of a change away from what Berkeley has represented in the past.”

Frances Dinkelspiel, Berkeleyside and CItyside co-founder, is a journalist and author. Her first book, Towers of Gold: How One Jewish Immigrant Named Isaias Hellman Created California, published in November...