People’s Park is listed on the National Register of Historic Places

Preservationists are hoping the listing might persuade UC Berkeley to build housing elsewhere but Cal says it won’t.

People's Park August 26 - 02
People’s Park as seen on August 26, 2021. Credit: Kelly Sullivan

People’s Park was placed on the National Register of Historic Places on May 24, meaning it is a “historic place worthy of preservation,” but UC Berkeley said the listing won’t impact plans to build more than 1,100 student beds on the property.

“This designation underscores the historical, cultural, architectural and environmental assets of this irreplaceable open space,” according to a press release issued by the People’s Park Historic District Advocacy Group. “The park has an over half-century legacy of political and cultural events, a biosystem of flora and fauna, and a surround of highly significant architecture.”

The group is hoping that the designation will elevate its battle against building in the park from a local Berkeley fight to one that resonates nationally, forcing Cal to reconsider its plans to add housing, said Harvey Smith, a member of the group.

“It’s a nationally historic site,” said Smith. “Hopefully, that has some moral persuasion to it.”

Smith and other park advocates are pressing Cal to leave the historic green space alone and build student housing on other university-owned property.

The designation is merely honorific, according to Dan Mogulof, an assistant vice chancellor and university spokesman. He said the university’s environmental impact report already evaluated the site as a historic resource.

 “Listing on the national register does not restrict future use and, on its own, does not prevent any future development,” said Mogulof.

The university has not announced when it plans to start construction on the 12-story student housing development. However, it has begun the process, along with the city of Berkeley, of moving the approximately 55 people camping in the park to the Rodeway Inn at 1461 University Ave. Those who make the move will be offered 18 months of supportive housing as well as connections to social services.

In addition to student housing, UC Berkeley will donate People’s Park land to the nonprofit Resources for Community Development to build a supportive housing complex for as many as 100 extremely low-income, unhoused or formerly housed individuals. Berkeley has pledged to contribute $14.4 million to the project.

The People’s Park Historic District Advocacy Group is among four groups suing the Board of Regents for their approval of the 2021 Long Range Development Plan and accompanying EIR prepared for the People’s Park and Anchor House projects.

Frances Dinkelspiel is co-founder and executive editor of Cityside. Email: frances@citysidejournalism.org.