Activists and protestors occupy Peoples Park after UC Berkeley begins student housing construction.
A protester stands down California Highway Patrol officers at People’s Park on Wednesday afternoon before the university removed law enforcement from the area. Credit: Ximena Natera, Berkeleyside/CatchLight

5 p.m. About 100 people have gathered at Sproul Plaza on the UC Berkeley campus to rally in support of the park. Among the attendees is an original founder of the park, Michael Delacour, who is in his 80s. See the latest updates on Twitter.

Michael Delacour (middle, left) sits with homeless advocacy lawyer Osha Neumann. Credit: Supriya Yelimeli

2 p.m. UC Berkeley says it is halting construction at People’s Park on Wednesday afternoon due to “unlawful protest activity” and arrests.

In a statement, Cal spokesperson Kyle Gibson said law enforcement has left the area and all construction crews were removed from the park due to concern for their safety. The UC called in support from the California Highway Patrol, California State University police and other UC campuses as well.

UC Berkeley declined to answer how many police officers were present, and has not yet released information on how many people were arrested.

“The campus will, in the days ahead, assess the situation in order to determine how best to proceed with construction of this urgently needed student housing project,” Gibson said.

The university currently plans to build housing for 1,100 students, as well as partnering with Resources for Community Development to provide about 100 beds for low-income and formerly homeless residents.

A protest for the park is planned at Sproul Plaza at 5 p.m., and activists are hunkering down to occupy the area for the foreseeable future.

Brandon Mendoza, activist with Defend People’s Park who has been protesting at the location since early in the morning on Wednesday, said activists are prepared to occupy the park for as long as it takes to end UC Berkeley development.

“We’ve been here for 53 years, so, we’re continuing to be here,” Mendoza told Berkeleyside, standing atop the wooden structure that serves as the People’s Park Kitchen. “See you at the 54th anniversary. We don’t plan on leaving. We built this structure.”

12:50 p.m. UC Berkeley police have left the perimeter of the park, pushed out by a group of mostly young protesters who are now kicking down the fencing altogether.

People’s Park activists block construction by sitting on equipment on Wednesday afternoon. Credit: Ximena Natera, Berkeleyside/CatchLight

Activists are preparing to occupy the park for the long haul with water, earplugs and snacks, and lawyers with the National Lawyers Guild are on scene for support.

This is a developing story. Check back for updates.

11:50 a.m. As of Wednesday afternoon, UC Berkeley police far outnumbered activists at the park.

Protesters tried to break through the 8-foot chain fence that was erected early Wednesday morning, and were involved in altercations with UC Berkeley police as workers felled redwood trees in the area.

Videos from people at the scene showed nearly 100 UCPD officers in riot gear protecting construction crews at the park.

People’s Park activists protect the park’s makeshift kitchen on Wednesday afternoon as construction continues around them. Credit: Ximena Natera, Berkeleyside/CatchLight

Original: In the early hours of Wednesday morning, UC Berkeley entered People’s Park with construction crews amid opposition from protesters and initiated the controversial process of building student housing and closing the historic park.

Activists stand in front of UC police officers at 3 a.m. on Aug. 3 to protest the closure of People’s Park in Southside Berkeley. Credit: Supriya Yelimeli

Activists who have mobilized against construction for months were caught off guard when the full-fledged operation began a little before midnight. Text message alerts fired off in channels for park supporters — “They’re taking the park.”

By 12:30 a.m., UC Berkeley police and its community service officers had blocked off entry to all four corners of the park, stretching from Telegraph Avenue to Bowditch Street between Haste Street and Dwight Way, and construction crews were preparing to offload trucks.

About 20 to 30 protesters eventually made their way into the park when Peter Radu, assistant to the city manager, arrived at the scene with the homeless response team.

Dozens of private security officers were also on the scene. UC Berkeley spokesperson Dan Mogulof said the university would prioritize safety with all ongoing construction. He said that was one of the reasons cars in the area were towed to a different location before its operation and why construction began at night when few people were in the area.

“What does happen today is going to happen in a way that prioritizes safety and avoids conflict,” Mogulof said, explaining that the pace could be affected by protest activity Wednesday morning.

The UC Berkeley has led the process of closing People’s Park and relocating homeless residents who occupied the area during the COVID-19 pandemic when enforcement of no-camping laws was temporarily paused due to the shelter-in-place order.

The city has provided assistance, including partnering with Cal to lease the Rodeway Inn for residents of People’s Park. At the park on Wednesday morning, Radu said his team was alerted to the UC Berkeley operation on Tuesday and that they had been prepared for the day to come. Cal had not provided a construction date beyond summer 2022.

Radu and his team spoke with one resident sleeping at the park who agreed to move to the Grayson Shelter with his dog.

That shelter, which has 35 people living there now, is set to close on Sept. 30. Radu said there is space for the two remaining people who are still living at People’s Park and have not accepted offers for temporary housing or moved elsewhere.

Ruben Lizardo, UC Berkeley director of local government and community relations, accompanied the resident to the Grayson shelter after the homeless response team did his intake. Radu said one other resident left the location to search for her partner and didn’t return, and the remaining resident didn’t want to leave.

Construction crews erect fences at People’s Park on Aug. 3, 2022. Credit: Supriya Yelimeli

At about 2 a.m., construction floodlights cast a harsh light over the park as activists — a majority of them young people, accompanied by some longtime advocates — prepared to stand down the arranged machinery, forklifts and construction crews.

Chants of “Whose park? Our park!” broke out as an assembly of construction vehicles began to drive into the park with heavy-duty fencing and storage boxes to clear out leftover belongings and additional equipment.

A small line of protesters sat down in front of crews to block their entry, but were soon outnumbered by about a dozen UC Berkeley police in riot gear who arrived to hold the perimeter. Dozens more arrived later in the morning to clear out the rest of the park, according to journalist Yesica Prado.

UC Berkeley police detained three activists for trespassing when they sat down in front of machinery to block access. They were released after agreeing to a seven-day stay away order.

Activists with Defend People’s Park said the nighttime move was strategic and designed to collapse their defense when students were away for the summer, and few people would be able to mobilize.

The UC Berkeley project has endured months of delays and extensions — partially due to several lawsuits that tied up Cal in court over the development.

The university was blocked from making any changes to the park in July after a state appeals court granted a stay order, but that order expired this week following an Alameda County judge’s decision Friday, ruling against all three lawsuits that had been pending against the development.

Lawyers for the plaintiffs plan to appeal the decision, but Cal has, in the meantime, moved forward with beginning to build at the park. Eight-foot fences wrapped around the park by 5 a.m. Wednesday, and construction crews were taking measurements throughout the area.

Amid the chanting, construction and fence-building, two residents remained in the area, trying to sleep.

The park will be closed for the duration of construction, according to UC Berkeley, and the surrounding streets will also be closed for several days.

Staff reporter Ally Markovich and photojournalist Ximena Natera contributed to this report.

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Supriya Yelimeli is a housing and homelessness reporter for Berkeleyside and joined the staff in May 2020 after contributing reporting since 2018 as a freelance writer. Yelimeli grew up in Fremont and...