UC police believe a spate of vandalism is associated with a large housing project planned for People’s Park, above.  File photo: Emilie Raguso

Police are investigating vandalism and graffiti at six homes of UC Berkeley staff members, some of whom are associated with the planned housing development at People’s Park, according to the university.

The incidents happened between Thursday evening and early Friday morning, and included a brick thrown through a window, broken vehicle windows, slashed tires and extensive graffiti at homes in Berkeley, Oakland and San Francisco, according to university. No one was physically injured, according to UC police who are leading the investigation.

Residents shared some images of the graffiti with Berkeleyside, which showed, among other things, “A murderer lives here” scrawled on a garage in red spray paint, as well as “[Name], you murderer” outside another home with garbage dumped inside a driveway. Berkeleyside is not sharing names or images to protect the identity of the residents.

UC police believe the vandalism is associated with the plan to build student housing at People’s Park. The university said this was determined based on the content of “highly threatening, hateful graffiti,” the identity of the Cal staff members whose homes were involved, the timing of the vandalism and other details obtained in the ongoing investigation.

Some of the people who were targeted had little to no involvement in the People’s Park project, however, leading the university to believe whoever carried out the vandalism acted somewhat randomly. Six of the vandalism reports were at the homes of employees and officials, and a seventh was at the home of a neighbor not linked to Cal.

The events on Thursday and Friday are connected with another case of vandalism at the home of a Cal staffer on Feb. 23, the university said. No arrests have been made as of Tuesday.

“Given that the victims live in different jurisdictions, and the serious nature of the crimes, a multi-agency investigation is now underway,” the university said in a statement.

The online staff contact page for UC Berkeley Capital Strategies, which oversees university developments, was taken down this week. Cal said it is one of multiple steps being taken to protect its employees.

Activists say the vandalism distracts from pressing issues

Activists march from Civic Center Park to the UC Berkeley Capital Strategies office to oppose development at People’s Park on March 9, 2021. Organizers said they had no involvement in the cases of vandalism, and that they are a distraction from important issues facing the park — like gentrification, police brutality and exacerbated homelessness. Photo: Supriya Yelimeli

Cal has faced years of opposition to its 16-story housing project at People’s Park, which plans for 1,200 student beds and supportive housing for 125 community members by 2024.

The first steps towards the development were taken in early January when Cal erected fences around parts of the park  to begin digging for soil samples. About a week later, protesters tore down the fences and several graduate and undergraduate Cal students began occupying the park in the daytime and overnight in an effort to protect the 30-40 residents who sleep there most nights.

During a small protest action on Monday, a group of about 60 students, community members and activists marched from Martin Luther King Jr. Civic Center park to the UC Capital Strategies office on University Avenue to demand that People’s Park be protected from gentrification and development.

Dayton Andrews, organizer with a United Front Against Displacement, dismissed the cases of vandalism and graffiti as a distraction from important issues regarding People’s Park — like police brutality, institutional racism and diminishing access to services and mutual aid for homeless residents in Berkeley.

He said the group gathered on Monday had no involvement in the vandalism, and that their goal is to uplift the park and its residents, not draw more attention to wealthy and powerful figures who have control over the impending development.

The protesters said the new student housing project would not be affordable for the majority of undergraduates, inflate housing costs in the surrounding areas and aggravate issues of displacement and homelessness in the areas of the city owned by the university.

“Violently evicting a vibrant community isn’t an answer to the housing crisis,” reads a flyer at the People’s Park rally on March 9, 2020. Photo: Supriya Yelimeli

Last month, Cal Chancellor Carol Christ released an update about the People’s Park housing project, calling the site a “win-win-win-win” with regards to location, housing for students and community members and the opportunity to recognize of the park’s history.

At Monday’s rally, students pushed back on this message as “propaganda,” saying if the university truly cared about homeless residents, it wouldn’t build over a community resource hub. Amanda Hill, a second-year student who has been occupying the park in the daytime, added that students have done a better job distributing supplies at the park than the university has in recent weeks.

They and others encouraged students to occupy the park and assume their role in protecting the historic space.

“We need to hold [People’s Park] dear, and hold this up,” said Gabbi Sharp, a second-year student, explaining that students benefit from the university’s presence while others suffer. “We are gentrifiers, we are contributing to this violence by allowing the university to keep doing what they’re doing.”

Supriya Yelimeli is a housing and homelessness reporter for Berkeleyside and joined the staff in May 2020 after contributing reporting since 2018 as a freelance writer. Yelimeli grew up in Fremont and...