University of California Regents approves housing project plan for Berkeley’s historic People’s Park

The project includes 1,113 new beds for students, although at least one group advocating for the park’s preservation plans to file a lawsuit against its redevelopment

San Francisco /
Oct.October 05, 2021 10:02 AM
University of California, Berkeley Chancellor Carol Christ, and an artist’s illustration of the People’s Park project. (Credit: Hulda Nelson, LMS Architects / Hood Design Studio)

The University of California Board of Regents overwhelmingly approved a controversial project that would create more than 1,100 new beds for students at the site of Berkeley’s historic People’s Park. Yet at least one group looking to keep the park as it is said it will file a lawsuit to try to block the redevelopment.

Last week, the board voted 17-1 to OK the project’s design and authorize University of California President Michael Drake to obtain about $312 million in financing to fund its construction. The development contains two adjoining wings, one 12 stories tall and the other six stories; the taller of the two wings includes 148 apartments ranging from studios to four-bedroom units that will contain a collective total of 1,113 beds. The six-story wing would include 125 beds for the formerly homeless and people making low incomes.

In addition to giving its blessing to the entire project, the board also reportedly approved terms of a ground lease to allow Berkeley-based nonprofit Resources for Community Development to build and operate the smaller of the two wings.

Yet the governing body’s vote does not guarantee the project’s smooth passage to a groundbreaking. For one, the University of California, Berkeley — which will oversee the development of the project’s student housing portion — won’t break ground on it unless it can provide housing and services during the construction stage for the roughly 48 homeless people who call People’s Park home. And while the construction of the student housing portion could begin sometime next year, UC Berkeley is already bracing for a year’s worth of litigation-related project delays, John Arvin, the university’s associate vice chancellor for capital strategies, \ during a committee meeting last week.

One group that’s planning to file a lawsuit to block the development’s construction is the People’s Park Historic District Advocacy Group. Group member Harvey Smith said last week that the site represents the city’s political activism and radical history and that the project’s 1.7 acres of park space — which makes up most of the existing site’s 2.8-acre footprint — doesn’t do enough to preserve its legacy.

“They’re (UC Berkeley) in favor of building student housing,” Smith told KPIX 5. “We’re in favor of building student housing. But build it in an appropriate location,” he said.

Meanwhile, advocates for the project highlight the fact that UC Berkeley houses only 23 percent of its students, reportedly the lowest percentage in the UC system. This fall, it had no choice but to turn away 5,000 students seeking housing, a shortage that “adversely affects the student experience” and makes it more difficult to recruit faculty, graduate students and postdoctoral researchers, UC president Drake’s office said in a memorandum recommending the People’s Park project’s approval.

[San Francisco Chronicle] — Matthew Niksa





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