The University of California Real Property Portfolio of April 2020 lists hundreds of acres of properties owned by UC throughout California worth multi-millions of dollars. UC Berkeley owns property all over Berkeley, but also in San Francisco, Contra Costa, El Dorado and Plumas counties, and even a piece of French Polynesia. Its listings cover 49 pages of the 116 pages of the portfolio listings. The list does not include recently purchased property like 1921 Walnut Street; this over hundred-year-old rent-controlled apartment building was recently demolished by UCB. Of course, with all this property on hand it begs the question why must UCB build on People’s Park?

It also makes one wonder if UC Berkeley Chancellor Carol Christ is continuing the work of Ronald Reagan. Reagan tried to turn back the clock to a very conservative time in U.S. history – the 1950s. Although he presented a selective view of the Fifties, it was still a period when there was a balance between New Deal values and a retreat from them.

As President Franklin Delano Roosevelt said at his second inaugural, “The test of our progress is not whether we add more to the abundance of those who have much; it is whether we provide enough for those who have too little.” Later FDR proposed an Economic Bill of Rights that would include the right to employment, education, housing and health care for everyone. This concept was drafted into the UN’s Universal Declaration of Human Rights by Eleanor Roosevelt. While adopted by many countries, the U.S. has yet to accept most of the human rights enumerated by the U.N. 

On the other hand, Reagan followed the tenets of the 1971 Powell Memo, known by some as “the corporate blueprint to dominate democracy,” which would eventually steer politics, the courts, and the media toward control by those we now know as the 1% with much of the New Deal left behind.

The current struggle at Berkeley falls within this ideological dichotomy – converting and using public assets for private profit, community-based values for corporate ones. Lacking a vision for sustaining one of California’s most important educational assets and providing upward economic mobility for the largest number of young people, Carol Christ instead focuses solely on how to generate revenue for an ever-increasing and bloated university bureaucracy. 

All of Christ’s revenue-generating opportunities for the campus “enrollment increases, self-supporting degree programs, monetization of real estate, increase in contract and grant activity, entrepreneurial activity — patent income, agreements with business and industry — and focusing our philanthropy,” lessen the quality of instruction, while feeding the corporate research projects and bureaucracy.

Christ seems to want to destroy People’s Park with the same attitude as Reagan when he said, “you know, a tree is a tree, how many more do you need to look at?” The park is a small ecosystem with mature groves of California native trees and plants. In a quick survey over 17 species of birds were documented inhabiting the park, including a family of red-tailed hawks. Among the trees in the park, there are many redwoods. Christ should know that in a time of global warming we need to preserve as many mature trees as possible.

Christ follows without protest the neoliberal policies of the last 40-plus years – increasing wealth and dominance for a few while creating greater inequality and austerity for the rest of us. She will happily trade a concrete monolith for a much-loved park, just because she can, even when she has alternatives.

Reagan articulated a trickle-down economy that has made the rich richer. Trickle-down housing does the same – developers get richer, low- and middle-income tenants are priced out. Real estate and development corporations, many of them out-of-state, are profiting handily from UC Berkeley construction projects. One of them, publicly traded American Campus Communities, the nation’s largest developer, owner and manager of student housing, was just purchased by Blackstone, one of the largest private equity firms, and will go private. (ACC built Blackwell Hall on land leased from Cal and is in line to develop housing at Albany Village and on Upper Hearst.)

However, corporate media likes to focus on a YIMBY vs. NIMBY opposition, conveniently forgetting how housing has been increasingly financialized and how advocates for affordable, public housing point in a different direction. This opportunistic amnesia extends to UC Berkeley, which can put the name of the author of the 1937 Federal Housing Act – Catherine Bauer – on a building and then forget what she stood for.

Although we seem so 21st Century with computers in our pockets, the reality is we are living under conditions as bad as the late 19th Century – The Gilded Age. The gap in income faced by working people under the monopolies of Rockefeller, Morgan and Carnegie is the same as now under Musk, Bezos and Gates. Add to the income gap the privatization of education, housing and health care.

The austerity programs initially introduced under Gov. Reagan are exacerbated now by the lack of revenue because our Titans of Tech pay little or no taxes. All the billions that may go to ensuring a basic level of economic and social equity and solving problems like homelessness and student debt are funneled to ever-higher levels of wealth for the ultra-rich.

The growth plans of Cal fly in the face of sustainable development. Unlimited growth has brought our planet to the brink of extinction, and one of its most renowned research universities should be modeling development that preserves and protects the environment, rather than expand its concrete and steel footprint with seemingly no limits.

Ronald Reagan was no friend to public education or the environment. Why is Carol Christ continuing the work he started?

Harvey Smith is a member of People’s Park Historic District Advocacy Group and author of Berkeley and the New Deal.