Activists and protestors occupy Peoples Park after UC Berkeley begins student housing construction.
Protesters face off with law enforcement at People’s Park, Aug. 3, 2022. Credit: Ximena Natera, Berkeleyside/CatchLight

Berkeley Mayor Jesse Arreguín had called a special City Council meeting today to review its “permanent” ban on tear gas, which went into effect in the summer of 2020, but he canceled it this morning.

Berkeley police have not participated in the UC Berkeley Police Department’s operation at People’s Park, where construction for student housing began Wednesday, and the discussion would have applied only to Berkeley officers, not UCPD — which is allowed to use tear gas under its use of force policy.

Arreguín said he called the meeting due to the possibility that Berkeley police would have to respond to ongoing protests at People’s Park. According to the mayor, UCPD and BPD had an agreement that UCPD would oversee all law enforcement and mutual aid requests during the event, as it has jurisdiction over the area.

The mayor said UC Berkeley informed the city their mutual aid response expired Wednesday night, prompting concerns BPD may need to become involved if the protest spilled into the city.

After Berkeley implemented the tear gas ban in the summer of 2020, Arreguín said the Alameda County Sheriff’s Office has said it will not provide mutual aid at events and instead told the city they would have to call the National Guard. Lifting the ban would allow the city to call in help from the county again.

“Faced with the prospect of not having mutual aid support in the event there’s a serious situation, we didn’t know what to do, we didn’t have good options,” Arreguín said.

But he reconsidered overnight.

“I literally slept on it,” Arreguín said. “Having thought over the past several hours about this issue, I came to the conclusion that the ban that we had passed in 2020, I still strongly support that. I don’t think that we should use weapons of war in modern policing, and I’m just concerned about the impact it could have on peaceful protesters.”

He said he’s sending a letter to the sheriff’s office today asking that they commit to mutual aid support in Berkeley if the city needs it, without the use of tear gas.

Under UCPD’s tear gas policy, they can only use it “to control subjects who are violent or who demonstrate the intent to be violent,” and not simply as crowd control or for groups who won’t disperse.

The policy also says anyone sprayed with the chemical agent by police needs to be “promptly provided with sufficient clean water to thoroughly flush the affected area(s) when practicable.”

No agreement between Cal and city for People’s Park protests

UCPD called in police from other UC campuses, Cal State University and the California Highway Patrol to respond to protests at People’s Park, where construction began in the early hours of Wednesday morning.

UC Berkeley spokesperson Dan Mogulof said there is “no agreement with the city regarding protest response at the park.”

“The city has not indicated it has any intention to respond to any future protests in the park,” Mogulof said. The university declined to answer questions about its mutual aid request, including numbers of police officers. “We have a long-standing practice of not providing information that could serve to undermine our commitment to safety.”

Protesters tore down fences and entered the park Wednesday afternoon.

Police presence in the area far outnumbered activists early Wednesday, but UC Berkeley withdrew law enforcement and construction crews due to safety concerns. Crews had cut several trees before work at the park was halted.

UC Berkeley mutual aid response at People’s Park on Aug. 3, 2022. Credit: Credit: Ximena Natera, Berkeleyside/CatchLight

Before the council meeting was canceled, People’s Park activists called Thursday’s council item a “transparent attack on the people power that tore down the fence at People’s Park” in a social media post on Wednesday night, and asked for support. They updated the post when the meeting was canceled, saying the fight would continue if the item came back to the council.

A 2020 ban of tear gas, smoke canisters, pepper spray

In 2020, Councilmember Rigel Robinson, whose district includes the university and People’s Park, and the rest of the council voted in favor of permanently banning teargas, smoke canisters and pepper spray during demonstrations that occur amid the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. In a statement about the protests this week, Robinson told Berkeleyside that “everyone has a right to peacefully protest.”

“Many well-intentioned people have shown up today to fight for the needs of the unhoused in our city. The city shares that concern, which is why we have worked successfully to shelter almost every resident of People’s Park and are supporting the People’s Park housing project to bring a historic supportive housing facility to Southside,” Robinson said.

“Preventing this desperately needed student housing and permanent supportive housing from being built will only exacerbate our housing crisis,” he added.

Arreguín emphasized his backing for the park development while expressing support for peaceful protests against it.

UC Berkeley police reported that protesters threw “rocks, bottles, and glass” at crews working at the park early Wednesday morning. Some protesters confirmed that they spray-painted and damaged machinery, as well as fences at the site.

Seven people were arrested on suspicion of battery of a police officer, trespassing, resisting, obstructing and delaying an officer, according to UC spokesperson Kyle Gibson. He said two officers were injured and one person arrested was released from custody and taken to the hospital with minor injuries.

Arreguín said he is trying to confirm mixed messages about violence at the park and that a potential mutual aid response would be required to prevent any violent activity in the future.

“People that are putting up fences and doing construction work, they need to be safe just as protesters need to be safe,” Arreguín said. “We need to be sure that people are acting through nonviolence. I understand that people are upset and fighting hard to protect the park.”

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...