Plan for iconic California park pit housing vs. history – NBC Bay Area
Berkeley, an eclectic California city renowned for its tie-dye hippies and high-profile intellectuals, is experiencing a 1960s throwback sparked by People’s Park, a landmark that served as a counterculture touchstone, springboard policy and shelter for the homeless.
The colorful history of the 3-acre (1.2 hectare) site, forged from the land seizure by the University of California, Berkeley in 1968, has been thrust back into the spotlight as the school renews its efforts to pave People’s Park, this time for a $312 million project that includes much-needed housing for approximately 1,000 students.
After a judge sided with the university in a legal melee over the project, construction finally began on August 3 only to come to an abrupt halt hours later after a swarm of provocative protesters, who s were beaten with the police, knocked down the fences surrounding the park.
The delay was only supposed to last a few days, but the coalition fighting the university’s plans won an appeals court stay that will prevent construction until at least October.
But the lull hasn’t dampened the contentious debate around a historic site once hailed as “a trace of anarchist paradise on Earth” by former UC Berkeley professor Todd Gitlin and ridiculed by the former member of the City Council John DeBonis as a “Disneyland Hippie”.
The park became both a symbol of resistance and mayhem during a deadly 1969 confrontation known as ‘Bloody Thursday’, encouraging then-California Governor Ronald Reagan to send 3,000 guards nationals for a two-week occupation that conjured up images of war in a city that was crying out for peace in Vietnam.
Don Mitchell, whose father was a professor at UC Berkeley during the 1969 uprising, sees People’s Park as a social experiment worth saving as more cookie-cutter communities are built across the states -United.
“People’s Park has always been a place created and regulated by the people who use it,” said Mitchell, professor of human geography at Uppsala University in Sweden. “It’s a free and open space, a place where the rules of exclusion are very different. So people who were poor, people who didn’t have housing, people who didn’t fit into mainstream society in all sorts of different ways could find a place there. And many have.
This philosophy has long made the park a stopover for the homeless, with scattered groups of tents and makeshift kitchens. Drug use and violence helped spur support for the university’s development plans.
In Atmaa Das, 28, began spending time at People’s Park shortly after leaving Alabama in 2014 and found his way back weeks after workers left construction equipment behind, now spattered with obscene graffiti – part of $1.5 million in recent protest damages, the university estimates. “I came here looking for the promised land and I think I found it,” he said one recent morning, strumming his guitar while singing parts of “This Land Is Your Land” by Woody Guthrie.
University officials say they are sensitive to both the park’s heritage and the needs of the homeless people who have lived there since another set of fences surrounding the property were removed in 1972.
The school and city have moved dozens of homeless people to a motel as part of an $8 million relocation initiative and officials have promised to keep most of the site open space. The school also hired award-winning architect Walter Hood to design a memorial celebrating its history.
“Our plan will address multiple interests to preserve the park, create urgently needed student housing, and provide permanent housing for those without homes and low incomes,” UC Berkeley Chancellor Carol Christ wrote. in an email sent to university alumni and other supporters earlier this week. University spokesman Dan Mogulof declined a request to interview Christ.
Even People’s Park supporters don’t dispute the need for more affordable housing — the median sale price of a home near the university is $1.5 million. But critics blame mishandling of the crisis and argue the university could be leaning on its other properties.
As part of a 2005 long-range plan, UC Berkeley estimated enrollment of 33,000 students by 2020. Instead, it had about 43,000 students that year and expects about 45. 000 this academic year – with only 10,000 beds on campus.
The glaring shortage is primarily the reason city officials support the university’s plan, including City Council member Rigel Robinson, who represents the People’s Park area.
“People’s Park was a powerful symbol of resistance against government oppression, but it has since become a symbol of something else entirely: our failure as a region to respond to the housing crisis,” Robinson said. page.”
But the protests this month have shown that a significant part of Berkeley is not ready to let go, mainly because the park has become symbolic since UC Berkeley seized it for 1, $3 million in 1968 under eminent domain and demolished houses there. After citing the need for an intramural football pitch, the school instead let the site deteriorate into a muddy mess mainly used for parking.
After Boilermaker Michael Delacour led a grassroots group to plant vegetation, turning the horror into a community magnet, UC Berkeley decided to close it on May 15, 1969.
This paved the way for the rebellion. At a rally outside UC Berkeley’s administration building, new student body president Dan Siegel urged the crowd to “take to the park.”
“Some of the issues now feel like 1969,” Siegel, now a lawyer in nearby Oakland, told The Associated Press recently. “People’s Park is both a park and a symbol of activism worth protecting.”
The infamous 1969 clash between hundreds of police officers, some of them dubbed “Blue Meanies”, and protesters became a flashpoint in civil rights movements and against the Vietnam War. another was struck in the face by birdfire and dozens of protesters were injured.
Then Reagan, who had vowed to “clean up the mess at Berkeley” during his successful 1966 gubernatorial campaign, called in military troops. Before an uneasy truce was reached on May 30, 1969, hundreds more were arrested and, in another infamous moment, an army helicopter sprayed a crowd with what authorities called gas tear gas, but others insisted it was an even more dangerous substance.
Some of Reagan’s critics still believe he deliberately deployed heavy-handed tactics to establish himself as a leader of law and order while pursuing a political agenda that led to his election as president in 1980.
Harvey Smith, president of the People’s Park Historic District Advocacy Group that spearheads the legal fight for preservation, likens the UC Berkeley plan to Reagan’s 1969 crackdown.
Reagan “wanted to obliterate Berkeley’s social and political history and now the university is pursuing it,” Smith said Aug. 3, as construction crews used bulldozers and buzz saws to knock down most of the park’s trees, including some that predated the school. buy 54 years ago.
The clearcut depressed Bertha Jones, who lived in People’s Park for several years before accepting the university’s offer to move into a nearby Rodeway Inn.
“My grandparents got married at one of these trees. My mom got married at one of these trees,” Jones, 43, said. “I wanted to carry on the tradition, but obviously that won’t work now.”
Other former People’s Park residents told the AP they reluctantly moved into the motel, though they like having their own bed and bathroom. What they do not like is that they are not given the keys to the rooms, or that they are prohibited from leaving the premises from midnight to 6 a.m.
After spending most of his time at People’s Park for seven years, Eric Morales moved to the Rodeway Inn in early June with his dog, Bonita. But he will always call People’s Park his home.
“It’s not like any other park,” said Morales, 54. , you know? We are a family.