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People's Park (Berkeley)

Coordinates: 37°51′56″N 122°15′25″W / 37.86556°N 122.25694°W / 37.86556; -122.25694
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People's Park
People's Park in 2021 with homeless people's tents
TypeUrban park
LocationBerkeley, California, U.S.
Coordinates37°51′56″N 122°15′25″W / 37.86556°N 122.25694°W / 37.86556; -122.25694
Area2.8 acres (1.1 ha)[1]
ClosedJanuary 4, 2024
Owned byUniversity of California, Berkeley
StatusClosed pending construction
NRHP reference No.100007288
BERKL No.190[2]
Significant dates
Added to NRHPMay 31, 2022
Designated BERKLNovember 19, 1984

People's Park in Berkeley, California, was a public park that existed from 1968 to 2024 and ws owned by the University of California, Berkeley. It is now a plot of land with plans to build student housing for University of California, Berkeley students. Located east of Telegraph Avenue and bound by Haste and Bowditch Streets and Dwight Way, People's Park was a symbol during the radical political activism of the late 1960s.[3][4][5][6]

While the land is owned by the University of California, People's Park was de facto established as a public park on April 20, 1969 by local activists. However, the University of California never relinquished its property rights to the land, which means that no persons responsible for the establishment of People's Park as a public park ever had the legal authority to do so. This effectively turns People's Park into a case of persistent squatting, loitering, and trespassing over a period of sixty or so years since 1969 that was never ultimately criminally prosecuted. [7] On May 13, University Chancellor Roger W. Heyns announced plans to construct a soccer field on the site, leading to a confrontation two days later between protesters and police on May 15.[8] Known as "Bloody Thursday", police used tear gas and opened fire on the protesters to quell the riot, resulting in the death of James Rector and multiple injuries.[8] In 1984, the city of Berkeley declared it a historical and cultural landmark.[9]

In 2018, the university published a plan to build 1,100 new units of student housing and 125 units of supportive housing for homeless people on the site, but a small contingent of activists of residents and activists have delayed those plans through opposition including protests,[10][11] lawsuits,[12][13] sabotage of construction equipment,[14] and overnight occupations of the site.[15] The housing plans were backed by the Berkeley City Council, Mayor Jesse Arreguin, Berkeley's California Assembly representative Buffy Wicks and California Governor Gavin Newsom, and a majority of UC Berkeley students.

Pending a judgment in a legal challenge to the university's housing plan, the park was closed off in early January 2024, when construction workers and police surrounded the park with a 17-foot high wall of shipping containers to prevent trespassing.[16] On June 6, the California Supreme Court unanimously ruled in the university's favor, allowing construction to proceed.[17][18][19]



Early history


In 1956, the Regents of the University of California allocated a 2.8-acre (11,000-square-meter) plot of land containing residences for future development into student housing, parking, and offices as part of the university's long range development plan. At the time, public funds were lacking to buy the land, and the plan was shelved until June 1967, when the university acquired $1.3 million to buy the land through eminent domain.[20] The short-term goal was to create athletic fields with student housing being a longer-range goal.[21][22]

Bulldozers arrived in February 1968 and began demolition of the residences. However, the university ran out of development funds, leaving the lot only partially cleared of demolition debris and rubble for 14 months.[21][23]

On April 15, local boilermaker and activist Michael Delacour held a meeting with fellow political activists to discuss transforming the vacant lot into a community park. The idea quickly gained traction, and in the following days, the Berkeley Barb, a local underground newspaper, published a call to action for the creation of the park.[24][25]

On Sunday, April 20, more than 100 people arrived at the site to begin building the park. Local landscape architect Jon Read and many others contributed trees, flowers, shrubs, and sod. Eventually, about 1,000 people became directly involved, with many more donating money and materials.[21][23][26]

On May 13, Chancellor Roger W. Heyns notified the media via a press release that the university would build a fence around the property and begin construction.[21]

1969 protests and "Bloody Thursday"


In the early morning of Thursday, May 15, 1969, local police cleared the park and arrested three people who refused to leave. [27][28] University work crews arrived later and erected an 8-foot (2.4-metre) tall fence around the site.[29][30][31] Beginning at noon,[31] about 3,000 people appeared in Sproul Plaza at nearby UC Berkeley for a rally in favor of the park.[32] The crowd later moved down Telegraph Avenue toward People's Park.[3] Arriving in the early afternoon, protesters were met by the remaining 159 Berkeley and university police officers assigned to guard the fenced-off park site. A major confrontation ensued between police and the crowd, which grew to 4,000.[33]

James Rector was watching from the roof of Granma Books when he was shot by police;[34] he died on May 19.[35][36] A carpenter, Alan Blanchard, was permanently blinded by a load of birdshot directly to his face.[37] At least 128 Berkeley residents were admitted to local hospitals for head trauma, shotgun wounds, and other serious injuries inflicted by police.[21]

That evening, Governor Ronald Reagan declared a state of emergency in Berkeley and sent in 2,700 National Guard troops.[38][33] Demonstrations continued in Berkeley for several days after Bloody Thursday,[39] and National Guard troops remained stationed there for two weeks.[40]

Later history

Unofficial memorial: 25 years of People's Park. "Remove parking lot, put in a paradise" is an allusion to Joni Mitchell's song "Big Yellow Taxi".

After the peaceful march in support of People's Park on May 30, 1969, the university decided to keep the 8-foot-tall perimeter chain-link wire fence and maintain a 24-hour guard over the site. On June 20, the University of California Regents voted to turn the People's Park site into a soccer field and parking lot, pending construction of apartments within a year. These plans never materialized.[41] Efforts by the university to put in a soccer field in 1971 were met with resistance, with 44 people arrested during the protests.[42] In 1979, protesters tore up a parking lot after the university paved over a part of the park for student parking.[42]

Dear Indugu on the People's Stage (2010)

Relation to Ohlone Park


In the immediate aftermath of the May 1969 demonstrations, and consistent with their goal of "letting a thousand parks bloom," on May 25,[43] People's Park activists began gardening a two-block strip of land called the "Hearst Corridor," located adjacent to Hearst Avenue just northwest of the university campus. The Hearst Corridor was a strip of land along the north side of Hearst Avenue that had been left largely untended after the houses had been torn down to facilitate the completion of an underground subway line by the Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) District. Initially slated for apartments, community outreach by a citizen's committee in 1974 revealed overwhelming support for the establishment of a public park, and the park was officially dedicated on June 7, 1979.[44]

1991 volleyball court controversy


In the spring of 1991, the university released plans to redevelop People's Park. They proposed removing the Free Speech Stage and installing several large volleyball courts throughout the park. Bulldozers were ushered in, accompanied by riot police, to install the sand volleyball courts, spurring a new wave of protests.[45]

Protests grew each day, and police escalated to shooting wood pellets and rubber bullets at demonstrators. More than 104 people were arrested.[46] The San Francisco Examiner later reported the cost to the university of installing one sand volleyball court to be $150,000, not including costs for security to defend the courts against protestors.[47] The volleyball courts remained until 1997, however, when the university finally removed them from the park.[47]

2000s to 2010s


In 2011, People's Park saw a new wave of protests, known as the "tree-sit", consisting of a series of individual "tree-sitters" who occupied a wooden platform in one of the trees in People's Park. These protests lasted throughout most of the fall of 2011, only ending when a protester fell out of a tree.[48]

In late 2011, UC Berkeley bulldozed the west end of People's Park, in an effort to provide students and the broader community with safer, more sanitary conditions.[49][50]

People's Park has been the subject of long-running contention between those who see it as a haven for the poor that is crime-infested and unfriendly to visitors and families, and those who see it as an essential green space south of campus and a memorial to the Free Speech Movement. While the park has public bathrooms, gardens, and a playground area, many residents do not see it as a welcoming place, citing drug use and a high crime rate.[51] A San Francisco Chronicle article on January 13, 2008, referred to People's Park as "a forlorn and somewhat menacing hub for drug users and the homeless." The same article quoted denizens and supporters of the park saying it was "perfectly safe, clean and accessible."[52] In May 2018, UC Berkeley reported that campus police had been called 1,585 times to People's Park in the previous year.[53] The university also said there had been 10,102 criminal incidents in the park between 2012 and 2017.[54] A 2015 investigation by the Daily Californian found that most crimes reported at People's Park were related to "quality-of-life" such as drug and alcohol violations, and disorderly conduct, and that there were also multiple reports of battery, aggravated theft, robbery and assault at the park.[55]

Proposed development and resistance (since 2018)


In 2018, UC Berkeley unveiled a plan for People's Park that would include the construction of housing for as many as 1,000 students, supportive housing for the homeless or military veterans, and a memorial honoring the park's history and legacy.[53][54][56][57] On August 29, 2019, Chancellor Carol T. Christ confirmed plans to create student housing for 600–1000 students, and supportive housing for 100–125 people. San Francisco-based LMS architects were selected to build the housing, and Christ stated that the university was moving to a time of "extensive public comment" on the plans for construction.[58]

In February 2020, the university held its first public comment forum. Advocates of the park held a rally to protest the proposal, with students citing the historical, cultural, and social relevance of the park.[59]

On April 17, 2020, UC Berkeley published its plans for the People's Park Housing Project during its third virtual open house. Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, and the following shelter-in-place ordinances, the university moving forward with the plan was faced with significant backlash. The mayor of Berkeley, Jesse Arreguín, wrote "I think we should launch this process at a time and in a way that allows full transparency and participation. I therefore reiterate my request that the campus delay the public comment period until after the Shelter in Place order is lifted."[60]

On April 29, 2020, the Associated Students of the University of California (ASUC), planned to vote on re-establishing the nonpartisan housing commission.[61][needs update]

2021 occupation


In January 2021, UC Berkeley erected fences around portions of People's Park to take core samples of the soil composition in preparation for construction.[62] Homeless people who had set up tents in the park during the COVID-19 pandemic were removed from the site by UC police.[63] In response, a rally was organized on January 29. Michael Delacour, one of the founders of the park, gave a speech expressing frustration. Spurred on by his words, hundreds of people broke down construction equipment, tore down the fences, and carried them down Telegraph Avenue. Some were deposited on the front steps of Sproul Hall, the UC Berkeley administration building.[64]

The park with homeless people's tents in April 2021.

Protesters, including some UC Berkeley students, occupied the park in February 2021 to call for an immediate halt of development plans and evictions of current residents of the park, citing police mistreatment of the homeless' belongings. A university spokesman said that he was unaware of any reports of police throwing away those belongings.[65]

In a statement issued shortly after the occupation began, UC Berkeley Chancellor Carol Christ described building on the park as a "a unique opportunity for a win-win-win-win."[66]

National historical recognition


People's Park was officially listed on the National Register of Historic Places on May 24, 2022.[67]

2022 demolition effort

Protesters and police face off at a barricade near People's Park on August 3, 2022.

Just after midnight on August 3, 2022, the UC Berkeley Police Department and contractors began fencing off People's Park. Protesters gathered after multiple "bulldozer" alerts were shared when workers began unloading heavy machinery and construction equipment into the park. At about 3 a.m., activists tried to block the movement of machinery into the park by lying on the road, and arrests were made.[10] By noon, 47 trees in People's Park were cut down by a local company.[68][69]

These events were accompanied by a protest at Sproul Plaza on the UC Berkeley campus. Demonstrators marched down Telegraph Avenue and Haste Street, coalescing at the park.[11] By noon, the university decided to withdraw construction crews from the site, citing "destruction of construction materials, unlawful protest activities and violence on the part of some." Hours later, the university announced that construction work at People's Park would be temporarily paused.[14][70]

On August 4, a special City Council meeting was canceled by Mayor Jesse Arreguín. The meeting was scheduled a day after confrontations with law enforcement occurred, in order to discuss lifting Berkeley's ban on the use of tear gas and pepper spray by police. The June 2020 ban was put in place by a unanimous vote, with Arreguín saying at the time that tear gas "is banned in warfare and should not be used on our streets or in protests." The mayor said he initially called for the August 4 meeting following the protests at People's Park, but later said that he "came to the conclusion that it was the wrong approach and that the ban on tear gas should remain." The mayor stated that he supports the university's housing project, but said that "it’s understandable that people are very concerned and upset about the construction at the park" and that there is a need to "make sure that people can protest peacefully, and make sure we are protecting the safety of the broader community at the same time."[71]

On August 5, the California First District Court of Appeal upheld a stay on construction, demolition and tree-cutting, temporarily pausing further development work at People's Park until the legal issue was resolved. The university, however, retains the legal right to fence the perimeter of the park.

2024 fencing

Shipping containers surrounding People's Park on January 2024.

On January 4, 2024, shortly after midnight, UC Berkeley fenced the park with double-stacked cargo containers in an action that involved at least 100 police officers from UCPD, Cal State campus police, California Highway Patrol, and the Alameda County Sheriff's Office.[72][73] About 60 protesters occupied the park during the overnight operation until forced to leave by police, which led to seven arrests.[74] The university was not allowed to start construction on its proposed development due to the ongoing court case, but took measures to secure the perimeter of the lot, as several large trees were also chopped down.[74]

Police enclose the park after midnight on January 4, 2024.

On the previous night, park advocates had held an overnight vigil to defend against rumored fencing, expressing concern that UC Berkeley's winter break meant that many students were not around.[75] In a press release, UC Berkeley stated that the park was being closed to "minimize disruption for the city of Berkeley and campus communities".[76]

2024 California Supreme Court decision


On June 6th, 2024, the California Supreme Court sided with the university in an appeal to continue construction on the site. UC Berkeley announced after the ruling that it will be preparing a plan to begin construction of student housing at the site, in line with the original intended use of the property.[7]

Past community involvement


The "Free Box" operated as a clothes donation drop-off site for many years until it was destroyed by arson in 1995, and was not rebuilt due to police interference.[77] In March 2021, community members built a community kitchen.[78][79]

On January 4, 2023, when California governor Gavin Newsom declared a state of emergency due to an atmospheric river storm, community members built a warming shelter, which remained open for 7 days.[80][81]

See also



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  4. ^ Meyers, Jessica (September 12, 2006). "A Portrait of People's Park". Northgate News Online. Archived from the original on August 4, 2008. Retrieved March 11, 2008.
  5. ^ Wagner, David (May 5, 2008). "Hip-Hop Festival Takes Over People's Park". The Daily Californian. Archived from the original on January 6, 2016.
  6. ^ Gross, Rachel (January 26, 2009). "Residents, Homeless Try to Coexist by People's Park". The Daily Californian. Archived from the original on January 6, 2016.
  7. ^ a b "From Rubble to Refuge - The Daily Californian". October 15, 2014. Archived from the original on October 15, 2014. Retrieved June 8, 2024.
  8. ^ a b Titangos, Lee Anne. "Library Guides: People's Park: Resources from The Bancroft Library: Bloody Thursday". guides.lib.berkeley.edu. Retrieved June 8, 2024.
  9. ^ Harris, Barbara Lynne (November 20, 1984). "Panel dubs People's Park a landmark". The Oakland Tribune.
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  66. ^ Christ, Carol (February 22, 2021). "An update from Chancellor Christ on two UC Berkeley student housing projects". Berkeley News. Retrieved May 7, 2021.
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  73. ^ Wiley, Hannah; Garrison, Jessica; Rainey, James (January 4, 2024). "UC Berkeley makes dead-of-night push to wall off storied People's Park". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved January 4, 2024.
  74. ^ a b Allday, Erin; Ravani, Sarah (January 4, 2024). "UC Berkeley erects massive barricade of 160 shipping containers around People's Park". San Francisco Chronicle. Retrieved January 4, 2024.
  75. ^ Cooke, Riley; Brown, Matthew (January 2, 2024). "Campus plans to re-fence People's Park with shipping containers, barbed wire". The Daily Californian. Retrieved January 3, 2024.
  76. ^ Kell, Gretchen. "UC Berkeley launches closure of People's Park construction site". Berkeley News. University of California, Berkeley. Retrieved January 4, 2024.
  77. ^ Barbier, Rachel (May 8, 2019). "UC Berkeley removes 'FreeBox' in People's Park despite student support". The Daily Californian. Archived from the original on April 18, 2021. Retrieved August 5, 2022.
  78. ^ Yelimeli, Supriya (June 7, 2021). "People's Park Kitchen springs up to ease food insecurity during pandemic".
  79. ^ PATEL, ANISHI (June 15, 2021). "UC Berkeley alumnus Nicholas Alexander opens kitchen in People's Park".
  80. ^ "Gov. Newsom declares state of emergency as latest atmospheric river storm arrives". CBS News. January 4, 2023.
  81. ^ Kwok, Iris (January 8, 2023). "People's Park activists open temporary warming center".


Further reading

  • California Governor's Office. The "People's Park" - A Report on the Confrontation at Berkeley, California. Submitted to Gov. Ronald Reagan. July 1, 1969.
  • Gruen, Gruen and Associates. Southside Student Housing Project Preliminary Environmental Study. Report to UCB Chancellor. February 1974.
  • People's Park Handbills. Distributed May–April 1969. Located at the Bancroft Library, University of California, Berkeley.
  • Pichirall, Joe. The Daily Californian. Cover Story on People's Park. May 16, 1969.
  • "Reagan's Reaction to Riot: Call Park Here 'Excuse'" The Daily Californian. May 16, 1969.
  • Statement on People's Park. University of California, Berkeley – Office of Public Information. April 30, 1969.
  • Weiss, Norman. The Daily Californian. "People's Park: Then & Now." March 17, 1997.
  • Compost, Terri (ed.) (2009) People's Park: Still Blooming. Slingshot! Collective. ISBN 9780984120802. Includes original photos and materials.
  • Dalzell, Tom (Foreword by Todd Gitlin, Afterword by Steve Wasserman) (2019) Battle for People's Park, Berkeley 1969. Heyday Books ISBN 9781597144681. Eyewitness testimonies and hundreds of remarkable, often previously unpublished photographs.
  • Rorabaugh, W. J. Berkeley at War: The 1960s (1990)
  • Cash, Jon David (2010). "People's park: birth and survival". California History. 88 (1). University of California Press: 8–55. doi:10.2307/25763082. JSTOR 25763082.
  1. ^ "CA Supreme Court rules UC Berkeley can move forward with People's Park housing plan". ABC7 San Francisco. June 6, 2024. Retrieved June 10, 2024.