UC Berkeley Announced Plan to Build Housing at People's Park

The University of California at Berkeley says it plans to build housing for both students and the homeless at historic but crime-ridden People's Park, a 2.8-acre site near its campus.

UC Berkeley Chancellor Carol Christ said in announcing the project on Thursday that the university also plans set aside some of the property for open and recreational space and a physical memorial honoring the park's history for student protests in the late 1960s.

Christ said plans call for building apartment-style dormitories for up to 1,000 students, which she said represents a significant step toward meeting her goal of doubling the campus's residential capacity.

The university said supportive housing for homeless people will be located in a separate, independently-operated building that will house 75 to 125 people.

Christ said in a statement that the proposed project on university-owned property will "simultaneously address student housing needs, relieve demand-side price pressure on the city's housing market, address crime and safety concerns for the benefit of city and campus communities, revitalize a neighborhood and offer improved safety and services for members of Berkeley's homeless population."

Berkeley Mayor Jesse Arreguin said, "I strongly support the university's vision for the future of People's Park. We can honor its rich history while re-imagining it as a place where all people can come together and where we can shelter our homeless and provide needed housing for our students."

The park is bounded by Telegraph Avenue on the west, Bowditch Street on the east, Haste Street on the north and Dwight Way on the south.

The university bought the park in 1967 for student housing and athletic facilities but didn't develop it because it ran out of money and in 1969 it was taken over by activists.

The university said in a statement that while the park once was envisioned as a home of free expression and alternative lifestyles, "It has become a haven for crime and disruption."

The university said the 40 to 50 people who use the park daily tend to be the victims, not the perpetrators, of illegal activity and last year it hired a full-time social worker to help support the needs and interests of the park's regular occupants.

UC Berkeley said campus police officers were called to the park 1,585 times last year, including for an incident last June when a woman was arrested after feeding methamphetamine to a 2-year-old boy who was playing there.

A UC Berkeley employee who was working at People's Park last month was robbed and assaulted, according to the university.

Christ said, "Whatever one thinks of the ideals that motivated the creation of the park, it is hard to see the park Friday as embodying those ideals. It is equally hard to determine who the people are that benefit from the park in its current form."

The university said the student housing will cater to sophomores, juniors, seniors and graduate students, who it said are the most impacted by the high cost and limited availability of rental housing in the East Bay market.

The university hopes to begin construction on student housing in the summer of 2020 and complete it in the summer of 2022.

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