San Francisco Chronicle

People’s Park plan can go on, court says

Bill eliminated last legal barrier for UC Berkeley student, homeless housing

- By Bob Egelko

With a nod to state lawmakers, the California Supreme Court cleared the way Thursday for UC Berkeley to build housing for students and unhoused people in historic People’s Park.

Some neighborho­od groups have opposed the $312 million plan, saying the university should leave the park alone and choose less disruptive alternativ­e sites that are available elsewhere in Berkeley. A state appeals court ruled last year that UC had failed to consider those locations or to submit any plans to shield neighbors from noise generated by “loud student parties” in People’s Park dormitorie­s.

But the Legislatur­e then unanimousl­y passed, and Gov. Gavin Newsom signed, AB1307 by Assembly Member Buffy Wicks, D-Oakland, which said the university need not consider other housing sites. The bill also specified that noise from the project would not have a “significan­t effect on the environmen­t” — removing any remaining legal obstacles.

Or, as the university’s lawyer, Nicole Gordon, put it at the court’s hearing in April, “People cause pollution, yet never before has a court said that people themselves are the pollution.”

In light of AB1307, “this lawsuit poses no obstacle to the de

“You play by the rules, and then when you win in court, UC doesn’t like the outcome and goes to the Legislatur­e and changes the rules.” Harvey Smith, president of the People’s Park Historic District Advocacy Group

velopment of the People’s Park housing project,” Chief Justice Patricia Guerrero wrote in Thursday’s 7-0 ruling.

Even Thomas Lippe, lawyer for neighborho­od opponents of the project, acknowledg­ed at the hearing that AB1307 had eliminated the last legal barriers to the project. But Lippe urged the justices to keep the case alive and require UC Berkeley to consider the local impact of its long-range plans to add thousands of students, saying the university has failed to include the public in its decision-making.

The court said, however, that the new law “applies to both the People’s Park housing project and the developmen­t plan.”

The Legislatur­e concluded that “the effects of noise generated by project occupants and their guests on human beings is not a significan­t effect on the environmen­t for residentia­l projects for purposes of CEQA,” the California Environmen­tal Quality Act, Guerrero wrote. That law requires public agencies to describe the potential environmen­tal effects of projects they are approving and consider ways to reduce those impacts.

Because of the new law, UC Berkeley’s environmen­tal report “is not inadequate for having failed to study the potential noisiness of future students at UC Berkeley in connection with this project,” Guerrero said.

After the new state law led to more protests, police swept protesters from the park in January and then set up a wall of metal shipping containers to keep them out.

In Berkeley on Thursday, a group of about 20 gathered under a California Golden Bears canopy and in front of a purple “Free People’s Park” banner at the corner of Telegraph Avenue and Haste Street to read the decision. It was greeted with both sighs and groans.

But UC Berkeley spokespers­on Kyle Gibson said the university is “grateful for the strong and ongoing support this project has received from the majority of Berkeley students, community members, advocates for the unhoused, the city’s elected leaders, the state Legislatur­e, and the governor.”

“The housing components of the project are desperatel­y needed by our students and unhoused people, and the entire community will benefit from the fact that more than 60% of the 2.8-acre site will be revitalize­d as open park space,” Gibson said in a statement that indicated constructi­on will now proceed quickly.

Harvey Smith, president of the People’s Park Historic District Advocacy Group, which was a plaintiff in the suit, said the ruling was disappoint­ing but not surprising.

“You play by the rules, and then when you win in court, UC doesn’t like the outcome and goes to the Legislatur­e and changes the rules,” Smith said.

UC Berkeley now provides housing for only 21.7% of its 45,000 students, the lowest rate in the 10-campus University of California system. It plans to build housing in the park for 1,113 students in a 148-unit complex. A separate building would contain 125 beds, with either half or all going to homeless people, depending on available financing. During constructi­on, the university says, it will provide shelter for about four dozen unhoused people. More than half of the 2.8 acres would remain open space, with a new grove of trees.

Gibson said plans for the project will be finalized within weeks, and that constructi­on updates will be shared on the project’s website.

The land south of campus was acquired in 1967 by the university, which bought out the owners of homes on the property and tore down their buildings to make room for dormitorie­s.

But students opposed to the plan planted a garden and named the land People’s Park. Gov. Ronald Reagan then sent in police to remove the plants and build a fence. During a violent protest in May 1969, officers fatally shot one man and wounded others.

The protesters ultimately prevailed, and the property is still a park. But as the shortage of on-campus housing increased, the university revived its dormitory plan in 2017, and the city of Berkeley approved funding for it in 2021.

The case is Make UC a Good Neighbor v. Regents of the Univ. of Cal., No. S279242.

 ?? Photos by Brontë Wittpenn/The Chronicle ?? Storage containers line People’s Park in Berkeley on Thursday. Plans to develop student housing at the park can go forward.
Photos by Brontë Wittpenn/The Chronicle Storage containers line People’s Park in Berkeley on Thursday. Plans to develop student housing at the park can go forward.
 ?? ?? Recent UC Berkeley graduate Enrique Marisol, 23, who seeks to preserve People’s Park, stands near a sign opposing developmen­t as the decision is read Thursday.
Recent UC Berkeley graduate Enrique Marisol, 23, who seeks to preserve People’s Park, stands near a sign opposing developmen­t as the decision is read Thursday.
 ?? Photos by Brontë Wittpenn/The Chronicle ?? Lisa Teague, who lives near People’s Park, speaks to a group after reading the California Supreme Court ruling on the housing plan Thursday in Berkeley. The court ruled in favor of UC Berkeley’s plan to build high-rise student housing at the park site.
Photos by Brontë Wittpenn/The Chronicle Lisa Teague, who lives near People’s Park, speaks to a group after reading the California Supreme Court ruling on the housing plan Thursday in Berkeley. The court ruled in favor of UC Berkeley’s plan to build high-rise student housing at the park site.
 ?? ?? Signs at the corner of Telegraph Avenue and Haste Street oppose UC Berkeley’s plan to build housing at People’s Park. Neighborho­od groups have fought the developmen­t for years.
Signs at the corner of Telegraph Avenue and Haste Street oppose UC Berkeley’s plan to build housing at People’s Park. Neighborho­od groups have fought the developmen­t for years.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from United States