BERKELEY, Calif. (KGO) -- Construction crews and police were greeted by protesters around midnight on Thursday as they started the process of clearing People's Park for a student housing project.
This fight over People's Park started more than 50 years ago when the UC system announced its plan for development.
"Some contractors are planning to begin work here while students are mostly all home on winter break, which to me just kind of reflects the ideals that they're putting into this project," Connor Green, a U.C. Berkeley student said.
Green was one of dozens who ended winter break early when he heard what was happening.
"I don't think that we can really claim that we're a beacon of free speech when our capital of free speech in the city is being treated as such by the university, by the private contractors, it's People's Park for a reason and the people are the ones that need to re-control it," he said.
University officials say seven people were arrested, booked and have already been released on trespassing charges. Protests continued into the day. Residents demanded the university leave the park alone.
"We need a place where community members can find each other and learn about the history of Berkeley," said Aiden Hill, a resident and U.C. Berkeley student. "It is a brave space. People learn how to grow up. Students like myself learn how to grow up here. So we are trying to preserve a future where UC Berkeley benefits. What they have is a future where UC administration benefits."
Now, crews are working to set up a perimeter of shipping containers stacked on top of each other around the park to keep people out.
They say they chose to do this now to avoid trouble and conflict.
"What we're doing out here is taking advantage of a time of the year when we have very few students, very few people here, to be able to do this as safely and as quickly as possible," Kyle Gibson, a spokesperson for U.C. Berkeley said.
Campus officials said that they're not able to start construction of student housing yet, which would have room for more than 1,100 students and permanent supportive housing for 125 people experiencing homelessness.
However, they expect to start in the "coming months ahead," pending resolution by the California Supreme Court of legal challenges.
Officials also say they plan to preserve 60 percent of the park as open space to reinforce the park's history.
"It is a student housing crisis here in Berkeley, particularly, the Bay Area is one of the tightest housing markets in the nation, so what we can do, is increase our student housing the rates of which we can control and keep steady," Gibson said.
University officials tell ABC7 News they're expecting road closures surrounding a two-block radius of this park to last for at least three days.
The fight over People's Park goes back started more than 50 years ago back in 1969, when the UC system announced its plan for development.
The legacy of the park began on May 15, 1969. It was dubbed "Bloody Thursday," when a violent confrontation between police and anti-war protesters turned deadly.
Since then, any plan to change the park has been met with protests.
In August of 1991, demonstrations raged for a week over the construction of volleyball courts and a restroom.
Months later in 1992, more protests over a plan to add a basketball court led to dozens of arrests.
More recently in 2022, protesters took on police in an attempt to stop construction at the park.
And now, tensions are flaring once again.
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