UC Berkeley calls off construction at People's Park after 'unlawful protest activity and violence'

ByRyan Curry and Anser Hassan via KGO logo
Thursday, August 4, 2022
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People's Park in Berkey has a history of resistance, which proved true, even on the first day of construction to tear down the historic park.

BERKELEY, Calif. (KGO) -- People's Park in Berkey has a history of resistance, which proved true, even on the first day of construction to tear down the historic park.

Officials at U.C. Berkeley called off construction on a new student housing project at the park due to what they referred to as "unlawful protest activity and violence."

Construction crews began work in the pre-dawn hours on Wednesday to fence off the park and clear the way for demolition. But late morning, a small but loud group of protestors clashed with police.

"As a climate change activist, it is really painful to see a park, built by the community for the community, being torn down," says Aisha Wallace Palomares, a U.C. Berkeley student.

That resistance was met by the police force.

A large number of officers, most in riot gear, pushed back protesters, trying to prevent them from getting into the fenced-off People's Park.

"I feel like I was doing what I can. But the more people we get out here, the better," says Tatum Loma, who took part in the protest.

A few people, like U.C. Berkeley student Bryce Smith, were able to break through the fence and make their way into the park.

"You got back to the '60s, the people of Berkeley wouldn't stand for this. I feel that culture is still here, that's the whole point. These trees were there during that time. These trees are older than me, older than a lot of people. They are rooted in the energy that kind of comes with Berkeley," he says.

The new student dorm project that will be built on the roughly three-acre site, was approved last year but delayed by an environmental lawsuit.

"We want this dorm to be open and ready-to-roll two years from now. That is tight construction schedule for a building of this size. So as soon as we got the green light from the court, we were going to be ready to roll," says Dan Mogulof, a spokesperson for U.C. Berkeley.

Despite the small number of protesters, the university says it has strong support from the city and students to build on People's Park.

"We conducted two random sample surveys of the student population, and by a two-to-one margin, students at U.C. Berkeley support the construction project here at People's Park," says Mogulof.

Luna Oxenberg is a nearby resident. She admits that there is a need for more student housing. But she says there are other sites where the dorms can be built, and which would have been less controversial.

"This little bit of housing wasn't going to make a huge difference," says Oxenberg. "Instead of pushing people out, you bring people in. And that's another way of problem-solving in the world that we live in."

U.C. Berkeley officials say several arrests were made but didn't provide any other details.

The university says it will assess the situation and decide within the next few days when to restart construction.

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