Judge OKs UC Berkeley housing project in People’s Park

University to build dorms for 1,100 students

UC Chancellor Carol Christ and People’s Park in Berkeley (Getty, Google Maps)
UC Chancellor Carol Christ and People’s Park in Berkeley (Getty, Google Maps)

A controversial plan by UC Berkeley to build more than 1,000 units of housing at People’s Park near the campus has been given the go-ahead by a local judge.

An Alameda County Superior Court judge issued a tentative ruling that a $312 million plan to build two dormitories at 2556 Haste Street doesn’t violate state environmental laws, the East Bay Times reported.

The decision by Judge Frank Roesch allows UC Berkeley to build homes for 1,100 university students and 125 homeless residents within 12- and six-story dorm buildings at the university-owned park. Activists say it should remain a public park.

It comes more than a half century after a similar plan sparked a violent protest that established People’s Park as a hotbed of social dissent. A 1969 demonstration against UC Berkeley’s plans to build housing on the 2.8-acre site led to a clash of 6,000 protesters, one death and scores of injuries.

Last week, attorneys for three separate cases seeking to stop the development — filed jointly last year by the Local 3299 union for UC service workers and community groups Make UC A Good Neighbor and Berkeley Citizens for a Better Plan — presented their arguments in court.

The groups contend environmental impact reports within UC’s long-range development plan, which lays out how it will accommodate a growing student population over the next 15 years, were inadequate.

They said the plans failed to account for how student enrollment growth will impact the surrounding community, from increasing greenhouse gasses to clogging dangerous wildfire evacuation routes.

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The attorneys claimed UC officials failed to consider more than a dozen other sites for housing other than the historic park, which was added to the National Register of Historic Places in June.

Roesch’s ruling said the university didn’t violate the California Environmental Quality Act. His is expected to give a written order this week

If Roesch submits a written order early next week allowing construction to begin,it would end a stay issued by an appellate court earlier this month intended to prevent any physical changes at the park until the decision.

No timeline for construction to start has been completed, according to UC Berkeley.

In addition to 1.7 acres that will be preserved as open space, the university has included tentative plans to honor the history of People’s Park with a memorial walkway, murals and photo displays.

Dozens of homeless people living in the park – bounded between Haste Street and Dwight Way four blocks south of UC’s campus – have been recently relocated to the Rodeway Inn on University Avenue.

Dana Bartholomew

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