10 big stories that shaped Berkeley in 2021

A vote to put housing in People’s Park. Promises to end single-family zoning and remove police from traffic stops. And other major Berkeley stories we published this year.

An aerial view of People’s Park on Sept. 5. The UC Board of Regents voted that month to build two buildings with a combined 1,100 beds for students on the historic site. Credit: Dronegenuity Team

It wasn’t even close. 

With more than 330,000 page views, Berkeleyside’s most-read story of the year was our piece about a vocabulary test full of lobster jokes that upended a 65-student private Berkeley music school. The story’s import went beyond the “lobster claws” headline humor — addressing serious issues of parents’ power and teachers’ pay.

But instead of ranking 2021 stories by page views this year, we decided to look back at the stories we felt had a major citywide impact. Here are 10 stories tackling the big questions Berkeley faces around housing, pandemic recovery, police reform, mental health and more.    

  1. Berkeley begins process to end single-family zoning
    In February, the City Council denounced the racist history of single-family zoning and committed to ending it. Enacted in 1916, it had the effect of pushing nonwhite people to poorer neighborhoods in the south and west.
  2. Plans firm up to remove police from traffic stops, but it’s a long road ahead
    Berkeley made headlines after George Floyd’s murder by announcing plans to enforce traffic rules without police. Making those plans a reality could require the invention of a new city model and changes to state law.  
  3. Scarred but resilient: Telegraph Avenue businesses emerge from the pandemic
    “Society is emerging from pandemic restrictions,” we wrote in June. Between delta, omicron and onandoff mask mandates, that didn’t quite pan out. But the feeling of looking around and taking toll? The theme of the year.
  4. He sought help for years for mental illness. It ultimately killed him
    About a third of calls to Berkeley police are for people having mental-health crises. In July, we wrote about Charles Feezel, whose family tried – and failed – to get him the sustained treatment he needed.
  5. Spenger’s development can proceed on site of Ohlone shellmound, court rules 
    A July decision by the California Supreme Court means a 260-unit complex with 130 units of affordable housing can proceed on a Fourth Street lot the Ohlone believe is sacred land. Ceremonies declaring the parking lot a sacred site continue.
  6. Judge freezes UC Berkeley’s student enrollment at 2020-21 levels 
    An Alameda County judge ruled in August that UC Berkeley must study the environmental impacts of its growth before it expands more, a big win for neighborhood groups battling campus to cap enrollment.
  7. Berkeley’s biggest homeless camps were closed. Where are the residents now?
    In August, after the opening of a 50-bed West Berkeley shelter, Gov. Newsom personally accompanied Caltrans officials in clearing out an encampment near the marina. A look at the numbers shows where people went.
  8. The end of the 1960s? Regents vote to put housing in People’s Park 
    In September, the UC Board of Regents finally accomplished what it set out to do more than 50 years ago: tame People’s Park by building housing. About 1,100 beds for students will be built in the park that was the center of massive protests in 1969.
  9. 9,000 homes by 2031? How Berkeley will try to pull it off
    New high-rises downtown. More homes along University and San Pablo avenues. Duplexes sprouting up across the city. Regional mandates require the city to plan for new housing. How it should do so is up to Berkeley. 
  10. Berkeley High knew for 15 years of allegations chemistry teacher sexually harassed students 
    Berkeleyside’s November investigation into the district’s handling of misconduct complaints against the teacher. Two former students have filed lawsuits after a troubling photo was spotted in the yearbook archives.