UC Berkeley suspends construction of People’s Park after protests
Update 2:06 PM: This article has been updated to reflect an announcement from UC Berkeley that construction of People’s Park has been halted indefinitely.
In an overnight move, UC Berkeley began the process of closing People’s Park for construction of student housing Wednesday morning.
Around midnight, community members gathered in the park after receiving a ‘bulldozer alert’ from the People’s Park Council. Barricades at intersections on surrounding streets leading to the park blocked entry to pedestrians and vehicles and were guarded by officers from the UCPD and Apex Security Group, a third-party security company.
The “scale-proof” fences surrounding the park are about eight feet high, and workers have drilled the bases of the fence into the sidewalk – there are two openings left in the park at press time. Protesters attempted to block the construction of the fences by standing or sitting in the way of the workers.
The City of Berkeley and the campus have begun the process of moving park residents into transitional housing in early June with plans to begin development this summer.
However, a July 7 stay order deferred the campus’s ability to begin construction until a new decision, released Friday, lifts the stay, allowing development to begin. According to Joe Liesner, a member of the People’s Park Historic District Advocacy Group, the new decision affects all three lawsuits regarding construction in the park.
Harvey Smith, president of the People’s Park Historic District Advocacy Group, said attorneys for the organization will appeal the new ruling in an attempt to reinstate another building ban.
As of Wednesday morning, three people were still residing at the park, according to a campus press release, and were being offered housing and support services. However, residents were notified that the park was closed and camping was no longer permitted there, according to the statement.
“It’s terribly upsetting, deflating, demoralizing,” Smith said at the protest. “The community as a whole seems to really not know the significance of this – in terms of space, history, culture.”
The UCPD arrived at People’s Park around 12:30 p.m., accompanied by three bulldozers and moving trucks manned by Norcal Moving Services.
Officers in riot gear formed a barrier to limit access to the park. Officers wore face shields and carried batons while handing out zip ties to each other.
Community members gathered in the park and outside the barricades, although their numbers dwindled as the night went on. Some took part in the protests and many captured photos and videos of the officers on their phones.
At 2 a.m., members of the People’s Park Council, including Andrea Prichett and Lisa Teague, staged a sit-in protest at the northwest corner of the park. A crowd of around 20 gathered around the demonstrators, chanting “Who owns the park? People’s Park!
Overnight, the UCPD arrested at least three protesters, the first of which occurred around 2:54 a.m. The man was placed on a stretcher and removed from the scene in a UCPD car.
The UCPD returned to the site of the sit-in around 3:30 a.m. Officers tied the hands of three protesters with zip ties and led them to a gated parking lot behind the Center for Community Innovation on Channing Way.
After placing one of the last fences around 5:23 a.m., more than a dozen officers marched through the park in single file, with bright orange and blue tape hiding their ID numbers on helmets and the vests.
At press time, fewer than 10 residents or protesters were inside the fence lines. Workers were clearing the fences of remaining packing materials, including bubble wrap and plastic ties.
The UCPD and third-party security guards at the park declined to comment. According to the campus press release, a press conference on Wednesday morning’s events is still pending.
The park will be closed for the duration of the work and surrounding streets will remain barricaded for several days, according to the press release. The statement added that on-site work scheduled for Wednesday includes the removal of trees and the dismantling of the park’s stage and temporary kitchen.
People’s Park defenders are planning a protest in Sproul Plaza at 5 p.m. Wednesday.
“We need open spaces now more than ever,” Berkeley City Council candidate Aidan Hill said in the park. “All of us here are very clear that if we had no place to go, this is the safest place for us.”
By midday on Wednesday, the crowd had outnumbered UCPD officers, who had lined up at the intersection of Haste Street and Bowditch Street in riot gear. Protesters began tearing down the fences using wire cutters and physical force. Shortly after, officers at the scene dispersed.
At press time, the fences along Bowditch Street and Channing Way have been uprooted and rebuilt to protect the park. Some carried police barricades from the night before to restrict law enforcement access.
Organizers also put out requests for food and resource donations for people who had been uprooted from the park the previous night.
As the fences were torn down, protesters began to re-enter the park, where nearly all of the trees had been cut down earlier in the day – the park was littered with the remains of tree trunks from tree-cutting activities in the morning.
According to a campus statement this afternoon, UC Berkeley will suspend construction of the park, citing illegal protest activity and violence. The statement added that law enforcement and construction personnel withdrew to avoid further confrontations.
There have been “multiple” arrests, the statement said, but details will not be available until tomorrow morning.
“The campus will, in the coming days, assess the situation to determine how best to proceed with the construction of this urgently needed student housing project,” the statement said.
Check back for updates.
Matt Brown, Kavya Gupta and Riley Cooke contributed to this report.
Contact Matt Brown, Kavya Gupta and Riley Cooke at [email protected].