People’s Park was officially listed on the National Register of Historic Places on Tuesday, advocates said, though they acknowledged that the listing will not affect plans at the University of California, Berkeley to build student housing at the park.
California’s State Historical Resources Commission in November 2021 voted 6-0-0 to recommend that the park be added to the register. The park was officially added as of Tuesday, advocates said, but they also said this will not deter the university’s plans.
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 people 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 others, including City Councilmember Rigel Robinson, whose district includes the site, university spokesman Dan Mogulof said at the time of the State Historical Resources Commission’s vote.
On Saturday, Harvey Smith, president of the People’s Park Historic District Advocacy Group, called the university’s plan “unconscionable. The park’s importance is beyond a squabble in Berkeley or within California. It is a nationally recognized historic site.”
Smith suggested that the park should be preserved so that its appearance and infrastructure are no different than any other park within the City of Berkeley or any green space within the UC Berkeley campus.
According to Smith, this is possible once the present homeless population of the park is relocated to housing as planned by the City of Berkeley and the University.
In March of this year, a plan was unveiled by the city and the university to provide housing and services for the people sleeping in the park.
“The campus is committed to proceeding with construction only after having a plan in place that will offer access to shelter and services to all the people currently sleeping in the park,” according to the UC Berkeley website.
On March 9, the campus, the city and community partners announced a plan including:
-Interim housing for people currently living in People’s Park with services that support a transition to permanent housing.
-Construction and funding for a new community-led daytime drop-in center.-
-Permanent 24-hour public restroom in the Telegraph neighborhood.
-Full-time social worker who will continue servicing the needs and interests of unhoused people near campus.
-Permanent homes for 100+ unhoused and extremely low-income people.
According to a statement by Smith, the plan to build on the park is “ill-considered,” and should be scuttled because the university has many alternative sites for student housing.
Smith suggested that UC Berkeley could build housing at the Ellsworth Parking Structure, which is one block away from People’s Park.
Smith added that UC Berkeley’s plan to demolish Evans Hall to create open space on the campus should be matched by maintaining the open space of People’s Park in the community.