University of California police have taken control of People’s Park in Berkeley and secured the perimeter with walls of shipping containers as dozens of protesters try to stop the takeover.
SFGate reports that seven activists were arrested on suspicion of trespassing, said Dan Mogulof, a spokesperson for UC Berkeley.
The University of California, Berkeley, said in a news release that it has closed the People’s Park construction site while it awaits a decision on its appeal of a court ruling that has prevented it from building a residence hall there to address a severe student housing shortage.
UC Berkeley says it needs more than 9,000 new student beds, double what it now has, to meet its housing goals. That means building on all feasible, university-owned sites close to campus, including People’s Park.
Two large student housing projects are scheduled to open for the 2024-25 academic year — Anchor House, with 772 beds, and Albany Village, with 761 beds — but thousands of additional, affordable beds are necessary.
Compared with the other campuses in the University of California system, Berkeley houses the least number of undergraduate and graduate students. The situation has forced about 20% of its students, faced with renting high-priced local apartments instead, to move away from Berkeley.
The university asserted in its news release that it has a legal right to close and protect the construction zone in People's Park. It has done so by surrounding the site with a border of double-stacked shipping containers.
Closing the site minimizes disruptions for the city of Berkeley and campus communities, the university says.
UC Berkeley students are on winter break, and 21 of the 25 people camping at the park as of November, when a census was taken, voluntarily accepted an offer of transitional housing at the Quality Inn in Berkeley, the university says.
In early August 2022, the university stopped construction of the residence hall amid protests by activists opposed to the housing plans. Opponents of construction won a court ruling last year that halted the project. UC Berkeley has appealed the decision.
The university says concerns about the safety of unhoused people camping at the site, and of students and others living and working near it, fueled the decision to close it off. After no-camping rules were suspended at the park in 2020 because of the Covid-19 pandemic, crime there has escalated alarmingly.
Reported crimes in and around the site in the past three years include 18 rapes, 19 robberies and 110 aggravated assaults, according to university police.
The planned residence hall would provide living space for more than 1,100 sophomores, juniors and seniors. Construction of the hall and the public park is expected to take a few years.
After that, work will start on a housing facility that will have 125 apartments and onsite services for very low income and formerly unhoused people.