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Berkeley Update: 3 More Arrested During People's Park Protest

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Aidan Hill and others demonstrate outside of People's Park in Berkeley on Jan. 4, 2024. (Martin do Nascimento/KQED)

Updated 7:55 p.m. Thursday

Three people were arrested late Thursday afternoon following a skirmish with police – the latest of nearly a dozen arrests made throughout the day as activists squared off with police at and around People’s Park in Berkeley. 

Hundreds of officers arrived in the middle of the night to clear the site of its occupants in preparation for building student housing at the park. Officers at the time arrested seven people on charges of trespassing, with two cited on additional charges of failure to disperse, said Dan Mogulof, a spokesperson for UC Berkeley, which owns the property. 

Throughout the day, construction crews began installing 160 double-stacked shipping containers around the park’s perimeters, as demonstrators gathered at the intersection of Telegraph and Haste avenues outside the park. 

Recently installed shipping containers line Bowditch Street on the eastern side of People’s Park in Berkeley on Jan. 4, 2024. (Martin do Nascimento/KQED)

While “very peaceful” throughout the day, Berkeley police Officer Jessica Perry said one other person was arrested around 1:10 p.m. on charges of theft and resisting arrest after they moved a barricade, bringing the total number of arrests for the day to 11, according to UC Berkeley and Berkeley police. 

Up until the skirmish in the late afternoon, the demonstrators had been playing music and eating donated pizza and cookies. Some were making or holding signs reading, “The people are the park,” and “Our people, our park” as several dozen officers in riot gear faced them from behind a barricade.

Berkeley police said protesters were attempting to remove barricades at the perimeter of the park, and an “altercation occurred” with officers at 4:40 p.m. Two women and one man were arrested on charges including resisting arrest and battery, according to police.

“What else can I do besides bring food for people?” said Alejandro Garcia, 31, pizza boxes in tow. “So they can spend time here and at least try to put some pressure, at least congregate, at least show we aren’t happy about this.”

Hundreds of officers were still on scene as of late Thursday afternoon. Mogulof said the officers would remain there until construction of the barricade is complete, after which security guards would patrol the area. He couldn’t give an exact estimate for when that would happen.

“Work is proceeding faster than expected,” he said. “We have some reasonable optimism it will be sooner than our original projection [of three-to-four days].”

The standoff is the latest in a half-century-long battle over the park’s fate. The university intends to build 1,100 units of student housing on the park, with at least 100 units of housing for people exiting homelessness. Roughly 60% of the 2.8-acre site will remain open to the public, according to UC Berkeley.

Janette Reid, a Berkeley resident and former Cal student, came to UC Berkeley in 1967. She was there in 1969, when the park became a landmark for the antiwar and Free Speech movements and when thousands of protestors faced off with police in the deadly confrontation known as “Bloody Thursday.”

“All this was so unnecessary,” Reid said. “If you told me back then that more than a half century later, we would still be squabbling over this plot of ground, I would have said, ‘That’s insane.'”

For Coco Rosos, 21, who grew up in Berkeley with the park as a historical landmark for political activism and as a refuge for unhoused people who camp there, the park is a vital piece of the city’s identity. 

“It’s important for people in Berkeley to understand that there is a location where people can come to where there are no prerequisites,” Rosos said. “You don’t need anything else other than being human.”

Andrea Pritchett leads a crowd of demonstrators in chanting ‘Whose park? Our park,’ outside of People’s Park in Berkeley on Jan. 4, 2024. (Martin do Nascimento/KQED)

In an email to students, UC Berkeley Chancellor Carol Christ said the housing at this site is part of its broader Student Housing Initiative launched in 2017. The initiative aims to add 9,000 student beds, doubling the number available in university-owned and operated housing. 

“That, in turn, means the university must build on every feasible university-owned site in close proximity to the campus,” she wrote. “The housing planned for the People’s Park site is an essential and inseparable part of our efforts to ensure there is equity of experience for every student.”

Enrique Marisol, 23, was inside a makeshift kitchen at the park Wednesday evening when officers arrived. They described a chaotic scene as officers used chainsaws to enter the kitchen.

“I heard a bunch of screaming and yelling from outside, and before I could even climb back up to get out of the kitchen, there were two more people climbing in and slamming the door behind them,” they said. “[The officers are] cutting into the kitchen from three different directions, yelling all three directions, yelling different things at us, telling us to back up in different spaces, and we’re like, ‘We can’t back up anymore.'”

Marisol said they were one of the seven arrested on trespassing charges. 

UC Berkeley spokesperson Kyle Gibson said the university’s goal is to ensure the park’s closure is “as peaceful as possible.”

“We’ve had a very successful morning,” Gibson said, adding that the park would reopen after construction is complete. “Over two-thirds of this site will be a brand new public park that will be open to the community and will not be fenced.”

Work to construct the planned student housing at the park stalled in February 2023 after an appeals court ruled UC Berkeley could not move forward with construction until it evaluated other possible sites for the housing and addressed concerns that noise pollution from students would impact neighbors.

But in September, Gov. Gavin Newsom signed a bill by Berkeley Democratic Asm. Buffy Wicks that effectively makes that ruling moot. AB 1307 amends California’s sweeping Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) by no longer requiring housing developers to first study potential noise levels generated by future tenants. 

Construction crews work in People’s Park in Berkeley on Jan. 4, 2024.

Lev Marcus, a 28-year-old who said he grew up in Berkeley, understands the need for more housing in the area but also sees a need for more open space as the city adds new residents. 

“I totally sympathize with wanting to build more student housing,” he said. “I just think that with the more people we have, the more parks we need. We shouldn’t be taking away parks, we should be adding more.”

Marc Allen Louis Don, 42, spent time living in the park, beginning in 2014 during a bout of homelessness and at various points since then. 

“It was very helpful,” he said. “I got acquainted and familiar with a lot of the people who were communally permanent here, and they had no other place to go.”

Christ said that between the summer of 2022 and October 2023, 89 people living at the park had accepted offers of transitional housing. In November 2023, a census of the site found 25 people living at the park. The university then partnered with the city on a $1 million lease of the Quality Inn motel, which includes social and other supportive services provided by the Dorothy Day House. 

“Twenty-one of the 25 unhoused people on the site accepted the offer and are now on the path to permanent housing,” she said. “[Wednesday] night, alternative transitional housing, and storage for belongings were offered to every unhoused person when the park was closed, an offer that remains available for all who need and want it.”

Although construction cannot begin until the legal case is resolved, Christ said she believes the courts have “repeatedly affirmed the university’s ability to enforce the site’s legal status as a closed construction zone.” Construction crews planned Thursday to continue working to set up shipping containers around the park, she said. 

“We decided to take this necessary step during winter break to minimize the possibility of disruption for the public and our students when we are eventually cleared to resume construction,” she wrote.

KQED’s Holly McDede, Adhiti Bandlamudi and Brian Krans contributed to this report. 



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