A Fight For the Future of People's Park

Community groups are fighting a plan to build student housing in the historic People's Park.

November 24, 2021, 6:00 AM PST

By Diana Ionescu @aworkoffiction

If a national historic designation becomes official, reports Keith Burbank, the University of California, Berkeley could lose the right to build new student housing on the site of People's Park, which the State Historical Resources Commission recommended for national designation in a unanimous vote. 

The plan to build the 11-story building plus a separate building for supportive housing has been approved by the city's mayor and other officials, but faces opposition and lawsuits from community groups who claim the plan fails to account for all the potential environmental impacts of the new construction, such as obstruction of historic buildings and loss of habitat for local birds. While owned by the university, the park has a long tradition as a public space and a sanctuary for the city's unhoused population, as well as a gathering point for protests and mutual aid projects. Critics say the proposed development would erase the park's radical history and displace the people who depend on it.

The university says the new housing will reduce demand in other parts of the city, improve safety in the park, and place more student housing within walking distance of the campus. The proposed supportive housing would include 125 units for formerly unhoused and low-income people.

Despite its liberal reputation, Berkeley is also the birthplace of single-family zoning, also known in housing advocacy circles as exclusionary zoning. Earlier this year, facing a drastic housing shortage, the city voted to eliminate the designation, and plans to embed the change in its general plan in the next two years. 

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