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  • Writer's pictureHugh Manatee

People's Park, Then and Now

Last September, the UC Board of Regents approved plans for a “new People’s Park” to create housing for about 1,100 undergraduate students. However, this plan has been contested by those who want to preserve the park because of concern for the dozens of unhoused residents currently residing in the space and the impact it would have on the wider Berkeley community.

The history surrounding the land begins in 1968, the heart of an era of radical social movements sweeping across the nation and the world. That year, the university started to bulldoze the housing that once existed in the area. Activists later gathered in the lot, adding sod, flowers, and trees, turning it into a “people’s park.”

However, on May 15, 1969, which would later be known as “Bloody Thursday,” protestors clashed with police officers deployed by the university to the park. One person died, and 100 others experienced injuries. The situation intensified when the governor of California, Ronald Reagan, sent the National Guard, bringing tanks and tear gas to the area. However, that did not stop thousands from marching to support the park.

Over 50 years later, the university has not abandoned its plans. In January 2021, the university constructed fences around parts of the park to conduct soil analysis in preparation for development. A rally was organized in protest as more than 100 people tore down the fences.

While the university has stated that they plan to include “permanent supportive housing” as part of its most recent long-range development plan for People’s Park, advocates argue that the plan will only facilitate further displacement and destroy a community that would otherwise not be supported by the housing options provided by the university.

Defend the Park, an independent website following the movement, described the “affordable housing” ostensibly promised by the university as anything but. According to their quick info sheets, income and rent requirements for the housing to be created in the park will not be accessible to the people who currently live there. Furthermore, they state that there is plenty of “unused or underutilized land on and off-campus where affordable housing could be built.”

Despite the decades that have passed since 1969, the fight over the land and the community’s self-determination continues to this day. To get alerts about the park, text SAVETHEPARK to 74121. You can also donate to the residents by Venmo’ing @pparkberk. The park will be celebrating its 53rd anniversary on Saturday, April 23 from 12-7 p.m.

If you are a student looking to meet housing needs, look at the Basic Needs Center for more information on finding housing.

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