Both Berkeley and the state are backing UC Berkeley’s state Supreme Court appeal in a lengthy court battle to build student housing at People’s Park, according to documents filed this week.
Supporters of People’s Park won a recent victory in a San Francisco state appeals court, saying the university violated state environmental law by failing to consider other alternatives to the People’s Park project and possible noise impacts of student housing.
The UC is appealing the decision, which has halted their construction plans indefinitely, in the state Supreme Court. The university wants to build 1,100 student beds and a 100-bed supportive housing project at the park.
Gov. Gavin Newsom and the state haven’t been vocal about their support for the UC project until recently, but the state funded emergency housing during the pandemic that provided hotel rooms to former People’s Park residents.
In its amicus brief, the state zeroed in on the lower court’s interpretation of state environmental law — one of the arguments supporting the People’s Park plaintiffs.
“This case provides an opportunity for the Court to reaffirm that CEQA is a tool to ensure public participation, informed decision-making, and thoughtful development—but not an instrument to block necessary progress or deny to others safe, healthy, and affordable housing,” wrote staff for state Attorney General Rob Bonta.
The city’s brief echoes concerns about local housing stock and affordable housing goals.
“The lack of such student housing at UC Berkeley has had ripple effects throughout the community for years,” City Attorney Farimah Brown wrote. “Not only does it lead to significant disadvantages for UC Berkeley students — ranging from unaffordable housing to overcrowded living conditions off-campus to student homelessness — but it also places significant strain on the City’s housing market for other residents, increasing housing prices and displacing long-time members of the community.”
In the background of the court case, organizing is ongoing on multiple fronts.
The park celebrated its 54th anniversary Sunday in honor of the recently passed park co-founder Michael Delacour with over a hundred people enjoying the annual tradition on a sunny afternoon. Last year, some doubted whether the celebration would happen again or if the park would soon be razed.
But current activists and those who have been part of the park’s historic fight for self-determination for years say they’ve faced down attempts to close the park nearly every year since its inception.
They say the university has never supported the park as a home for radical politics and grassroots community services, and local and state leaders are pitting the historic hub against the ongoing student housing crisis to further their agenda.
The People’s Park Council, one group advocating for the park’s continued existence, held an organizing meeting at the Grassroots House on Blake Street Wednesday; another is scheduled for Saturday.
Max Ventura, a 40-year “defender and enjoyer” of the park and a park council member said it’s an ongoing David and Goliath struggle against a university system and state with endless financial resources.
“We have people who care about the existence of the park for people, for mental health, for the Cooper’s Hawks … the Peregrine falcons and the owls. We care about all living things and we recognize that we’re a part of the park,” Ventura said. “We’re not trying to dominate the park and say — it’s ours, and now we want to make profit off of it.”
Council member Hali Hammer added, “We’re not ready to disappear yet.”