1921 Walnut St. is a rent-controlled building built in 1904, comprising eight large units, six of which are currently occupied. UC Berkeley purchased the corner property at the very beginning of the pandemic in 2020 and has since periodically and with as little detail as possible notified the tenants residing there that the intent of UC Berkeley is to evict them and demolish the building. Though the small corner property was not part of UC Berkeley’s original plan to build student housing, it has since been added to the development on the nearly block-long properties that UC Berkeley owns. It has been dubbed the “Anchor House Project.”
UC Berkeley’s stated intent is to develop market-rate student housing, as well as market-rate commercial space in this one block development. In other words, the intent is to create a revenue source for UC Berkeley. Furthermore, UC Berkeley has ignored or denied frequent requests by the tenants at 1921 Walnut St. to meet and discuss their situation and plight. The university has offered modest but woefully inadequate relocation compensation and has made no attempt to procure housing for these long-term Berkeley residents. UC Berkeley’s avarice and disregard for the community of Berkeley has become more and more obvious. I also want to note that The Helen Diller Foundation, based in San Francisco is underwriting this project through its Oski 360 LLC. The foundation is funded from profits made by a notorious developer of high-end, market rate housing.
The UC Board of Regents will vote on this project at it July 21-22 meeting.
Berkeley’s need for affordable and rent-controlled housing has never been more apparent. For a public entity to permanently remove affordable resident housing for the sake of profit and short-term gains is not only a terrible precedent but a slap in the face of the values and needs of our community. And therein lies, perhaps, the crux of the matter: UC Berkeley has stopped acting as a public entity and community partner and has begun to engage in the practices and actions of a corporation. They have no accountability locally and often are not answerable to even the state legislators.
The Berkeley City Council, Berkeley Mayor Jesse Arreguín, Councilmember Kate Harrison, the Berkeley Rent Stabilization Board, the Berkeley Architectural Heritage Association, the Sierra Club, the Berkeley Tenants Union, The Associated Students of UC, Berkeley Citizens for a Better Plan, and other individuals and community organizations have urged UC Berkeley to adopt alternatives to displacing Berkeley residents and destroying rent-controlled housing. Alternatives exist: UC Berkeley owns multiple properties in Berkeley and in the East Bay.
UC Berkeley could and should do much better and much more as a community partner. They could engage in a full and robust community process for input and discussion, and not engage in the evasive and disingenuous process they have to date. They could and should bring in the community leaders and spokespeople who have articulated, again and again, issues and problems with their 2021 Long-Range Development Plan: the mayor of Berkeley, city council members, Berkeley Architectural Heritage Association and Berkeley Tenants Union officers and leadership, other concerned and engaged residents of Berkeley. This decision to date is a clear abdication of leadership, vision, and process on the part of UC Berkeley. We demand better.