Protesters gather at People’s Park on Aug. 4 to discuss preventing UC Berkeley from starting construction at the site. Credit: Ximena Natera, Berkeleyside/CatchLight

Two eventful days after UC Berkeley attempted to begin construction on a controversial student housing project at People’s Park, a state appellate court approved a stay order halting all construction and changes until October.

Judge Teri Jackson signed the stay order Thursday to allow the court to review an appeal petition by Make UC a Good Neighbor and the People’s Park Historic Advocacy Group on their original California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) lawsuit.

It’s another development in a court case by the plaintiffs, who appealed the case (again) after an Alameda County judge shot down their argument on July 29.

The appeals court had granted the plaintiffs another stay order in early July that prevented any construction at the park throughout the month. UC Berkeley began construction almost immediately when that protection expired, rolling construction crews onto the site at midnight on Wednesday to the opposition of protesters.

In the 12-hour stand-off that ensued, protesters mobilized in the middle of the night, sat in front of construction crews blocking construction equipment, tore down fences and forced UC Berkeley to withdraw hundreds of mutual aid law enforcement officers and construction crews out of concern for their safety.

UC spokesperson Kyle Gibson said in a statement Friday that the university is disappointed by the court’s decision, but is confident in its legal position regarding CEQA.

The court order allows Cal to keep fences up at the property, but prevents any further demolition, construction, tree cutting or alterations to the site.

“While this new injunction will add further delay and significant additional costs to the project, we are pleased the court has agreed to an expedited process,” Gibson said. “We are also satisfied with the court’s decision to allow the campus to close and secure the construction site pending the expedited ruling.”

UC Berkeley had already halted construction due to ‘safety concerns’

Law enforcement presence at People’s Park on Aug. 3, before UC Berkeley decided to halt construction temporarily at the site. Credit: Ximena Natera, Berkeleyside/CatchLight

On Wednesday morning, UC Berkeley police reported that protesters threw “rocks, bottles, and glass” at crews working at the park. Protesters spray-painted and damaged machinery and tore down fences at the site.

Authorities arrested seven people on suspicion of battery of a police officer, trespassing, resisting, obstructing and delaying an officer, according to Gibson.

As it proceeds with its plans, UC Berkeley says it is prioritizing the safety of construction crews and everyone in the area. Gibson said “the campus is now assessing options to get that done in a safe, effective way” and that it will “explore all feasible options to make up for lost time.”

Cal plans to build a student housing complex at the site with 1,100 beds for students and an additional 100 affordable units for mixed-income levels through a partnership with Resources for Community Development.

“While we are dismayed by the readiness of some individuals to engage in dangerous, violent and unlawful activity as a way of expressing their opposition to the project, our commitment to addressing an urgent student housing crisis, and to supporting unhoused members of our community, is unwavering,” Gibson said.

Activists continue to fight — legally and on the ground

People mill around the trees that were felled on Aug. 3 when UC Berkeley began construction at People’s Park. Credit: Ximena Natera, Berkeleyside/CatchLight

Before the court decision, activists at the park who continued to occupy the area as of Thursday night said they were prepared to hold down the site for as long as it took to stop construction.

Protesters, many of them young people, held a large rally at UC Berkeley Wednesday afternoon that ended at People’s Park. There, they discussed strategies and reiterated their demands for the park.

There were some disagreements between two groups: One set, an older generation of activists who aim to preserve the park’s 53-year-old history as a communal gathering space and home for counterculture movements, who have primarily fought the university through the court system; and another group comprised of current UC Berkeley students are more centered on land rights and services for homeless residents who moved into the park during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Another coalition, Defend People’s Park, wants the land to be returned to indigenous stewardship, homeless residents who lived at the park to be connected to permanent housing and for UCPD to be defunded and those financial resources redirected to services for homeless residents, as well as Cal students and staff.

Surrounded by felled trees at the park on Wednesday evening, many activists in both cohorts who had been awake for over 24 hours spoke about what the park means to them and why they continue to fight for its existence. People who have fought for housing in other parts of the Bay Area came to support their efforts.

Misty Cross, one of the co-founders of Moms4Housing in Oakland, likened the struggle at People’s Park to the ongoing closure of the Wood Street encampment in West Oakland, which is under threat of closure after a destructive fire. A judge recently ruled that people who live at the park need to be housed before the encampment is shut.

The city of Berkeley partnered with Cal to lease the Rodeway Inn to house the park’s homeless occupants; most moved there before construction began. They also funded a daytime drop-in shelter on Haste Avenue to divert homeless residents from the park and provide a variety of services, including meals, a respite area, device charging, a restroom and lockers.

“Housing is a human right,” Cross said, to resounding cheers from the gathered crowd. “I stand here in solidarity because I too was affected by [this machine].”

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...