State supreme court rules UC Berkeley can build at People’s Park

Decision ends a 55-year battle by activists over the 2.8-acre housing development site

Supreme Court rules UC Berkeley can building housing at People’s Park
Chief Justice Patricia Guerrero with 2556 Haste Street (California Supreme Court, UC Berkeley, Google Maps, Getty)

The California Supreme Court has ruled that UC Berkeley can move forward with a controversial plan to develop People’s Park for student and homeless housing.

In a unanimous opinion authored by Chief Justice Patricia Guerrero, the court overturned an appellate court ruling and tossed out a lawsuit filed by opponents of the proposed development at 2556 Haste Street, the Los Angeles Times reported.

The decision ends a 55-year-old battle that began in the turbulent 1960s over the university’s right to build housing on a vacant lot seized by activists.

“In short, as all parties have effectively acknowledged, this lawsuit poses no obstacle to the development of the People’s Park housing project,” Guerrero wrote.

The ruling by the state’s highest court reverses a state appeals court ruling in February saying UC Berkeley’s plan failed to adequately address environmental concerns by not assessing “potential noise impacts from loud student parties.”

The appellate court ruling had halted the university’s plan to turn its historic People’s Park off Telegraph Avenue into housing at the 2.8-acre site a few blocks south of campus.

The university budgeted $312 million to build a 17-story dorm to house 1,113 students and a  six-story building with 125 beds for homeless people who once camped at the park. Some 1.7 acres, or 60 percent of the site, would be open space.

The university now provides housing for 23 percent of its students, the lowest rate in the state university system.

“We are pleased and relieved that the Supreme Court’s decision enables the campus to resume construction at People’s Park,” UC Berkeley officials said in a statement. “The housing components of the project are desperately needed by our students and unhoused people.”

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Details on the construction timeline would be released in the weeks ahead, according to the university. It’s not clear what developer would build the project.

In May, the nonprofit Resources for Community Development, based in the city, pulled out of the homeless housing segment because of the legal thicket surrounding the park.

In January, local police cleared out activists and homeless residents, while a work crew erected a double-stacked wall of shipping containers around the site.

The housing project at People’s Park has drawn fierce protest and controversy for decades.

A half century ago, 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 site led to a clash of 6,000 protesters, one death and scores of injuries.

— Dana Bartholomew

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