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A national historic designation for People’s Park cannot prevent the University of California at Berkeley from building student housing at the park, a state historian said.
State historian Jay Correia said People’s Park will likely be placed on the National Register of Historic Places in the next 45 days, following a vote Friday by the State Historical Resources Commission, which made the recommendation to federal officials.
The commission voted 6-0-0 to send the recommendation to the Keeper of the National Register of Historic Places in Washington, D.C., which 99 percent of the time agrees with the commission, Correia said.
“It was a big deal,” Correia said of the vote.
At People’s Park, UC Berkeley plans to build an 11-story building for student housing, and a separate developer plans to build a 60-foot-tall building for housing people who were homeless.
The university’s decision has been controversial with some members of the public and at least two community groups opposing the development. A majority of students favor the plan.
The plan also has the support of Berkeley’s mayor, vice mayor, and among others, City Councilmember Rigel Robinson, whose district includes the area, university spokesman Dan Mogulof said.
The cost is $312 million for the student housing and changes to the open space, Mogulof said.
The day before the decision by the commission, the groups Make UC a Good Neighbor and the People’s Park Historic District Advocacy Group filed suit against the university regents, alleging the plan for student housing fails to meet the requirements of the California Environmental Quality Act.
The two groups previously filed suit in July against the regents. In that suit, the groups allege the environmental impact report for the Berkeley campus’s Long Range Development Plan does an insufficient job of analyzing the environmental impact of the growth in students, staff, and buildings.
They’ll “save the park by destroying the park,” said Harvey Smith of the People’s Park Historic District Advocacy Group.
“This is a highly historic site,” Smith said.
He compared it to Woodstock and Kent State University, which are on or have places on the National Register of Historic Places.
Correia said the university already considers the park historic and Mogulof said the planned development at People’s Park is very close to other student housing already in the area.
But Smith said city residents have learned to live with the current student housing architecture and people must look at what’s unique to People’s Park.
“It’s ringed by historic buildings,” he said.
Buildings by architects Julia Morgan, Bernard Maybeck and Walter Ratcliff are nearby, Smith said.
It’s also an intact ecosystem, with red-tailed hawks and other birds, Smith said.
But Mogulof said a revitalized park would be “safer and better for all.”
Also, the additional student housing will decrease the demand by students for other housing in the city, he said, and it’s walking distance from campus.
UC Berkeley has about 42,350 students presently, Mogulof said, adding that “UC Berkeley has no interest in increasing its enrollment.”