Opinion: UC Berkeley’s plans to grow display corporate overreach and indifference

Cal proposes expanding without providing for housing for its present or future student population.

The city of Richmond has hosted the Chevron refinery as Berkeley has hosted UC Berkeley. Both cities grew up around a mammoth presence within city limits. Seemingly we should see a difference between a corporate industrial facility and a public institution of higher learning. But look again.

Chevron, a petrochemical polluter, greenwashes its activities, but residents of Richmond cannot ignore the periodic belching of toxic smoke in their community. Many lawsuits and city ordinances have been the result in the attempt to rein in harmful impacts.

Of late UC Berkeley is displaying the same corporate overreach, arrogance and indifference. However, its activities are not as palpable to most Berkeley residents, partly due to UC’s own “blue-and-gold-washing.”

UC’s Long Range Development Plan (LRDP) proposes ballooning enrollment and further expansion projects without yet providing for housing for its present or future student population, creating pressures in Berkeley that lead directly to displacement of current residents, many of whom are longtime citizens of Berkeley, or low-income tenants, or people of color. This incremental process goes largely unnoticed unless you are a victim of it.


UC’s proposed Project #1 (Anchor House project, which includes the property at 1921 Walnut St.) and Project #2 (People’s Park) will demolish historic buildings, eliminate affordable and rent-controlled housing, and will destroy a park and open space. In their place, luxury and market-rate housing and commercial space will be erected. The destruction of People’s Park would mean an area of refuge in times of wildfires, earthquakes and pandemics would be gone forever, as would its preservation as a site of historic and cultural legacy.

This privatization and monetization of public assets has increasingly become the mode of operation for UC Berkeley. Why else would its construction and development department be called “Capital Strategies”?

Now is the time to draw a line to prevent UC Berkeley from gobbling up more of Berkeley, from removing more property from the tax rolls, from foisting more expenses on city taxpayers. In essence, we should prevent the equivalent of a dark noxious cloud from consuming Berkeley.

UCB has just finalized its final Environmental Impact Report (EIR) where no serious consideration was given to the alternative of “no project” – i.e., a no-build option for People’s Park that would preserve a valuable public open space and an official city and state historic landmark.

On Tuesday, the city council will discuss the LRDP and accompanying final EIR and the lawsuit the city filed in June 2019 against UC Berkeley for increasing student enrollment 33.7%  without a proper environmental review. An Alameda County Superior Court judge ruled Friday that UC Berkeley environmental’s analysis of the enrollment increase was “legally insufficient.” Word on the street is that the city council will be considering a settlement with the university in a closed session at 4 p.m. Tuesday. This nontransparent process disenfranchises Berkeley residents from knowing the details of what will have long-term consequences for our city.

The Southside Neighborhood Consortium, a coalition of neighborhood groups, has outlined what should be included in a good settlement. Should not the city be working with its concerned neighborhood groups?

The city of Richmond settled with Chevron for many millions, and the corporation was fined by the state and federally required to modernize its plant. Other UC campuses have likewise reached favorable agreements with their host cities: Santa Barbara, Davis, Santa Cruz and San Diego.

Comment during the meeting or write the mayor and council. Urge your council member to avoid prematurely settling and to open the process and its full terms to all Berkeley residents.

Harvey Smith is a member of People's Park Historic District Advocacy Group, the author of "Berkeley and the New Deal," and Berkeley resident for over 50 years.