Court ruling will allow student housing at UC Berkeley’s People’s Park, a counterculture landmark | iNFOnews | Thompson-Okanagan's News Source

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Court ruling will allow student housing at UC Berkeley’s People’s Park, a counterculture landmark

Enrique Marisol, 23, stands near a sign in support of People's Park at the corner of Telegraph Avenue and Haste Street during a reading of the California Supreme Court ruling on the People's Park housing plan in Berkeley, Calif. on Thursday, June 6, 2024. (Brontë Wittpenn/San Francisco Chronicle via AP)
Original Publication Date June 06, 2024 - 10:26 AM

SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — People’s Park in Berkeley, which since the Vietnam War has been a site for protests and counterculture movements, can be converted into student housing for the University of California, the state Supreme Court ruled Thursday, capping a yearslong legal fight over the landmark.

The court ruled that a new law enacted in 2023 invalidates the claims by two local organizations that sued the school, saying more students living in downtown Berkeley would add noise pollution to an already dense area.

Because of the new law, which "all parties have effectively acknowledged, this lawsuit poses no obstacle to the development of the People’s Park housing project,” Chief Justice Patricia Guerrero wrote in the unanimous decision.

California is desperate for more housing of all types, including for students at its public universities and colleges. Some students sleep in their cars, crash on friends’ couches, or commute hours to attend class due to limited space in dorms and nearby apartments.

The court noted that Berkeley provides housing to the lowest percentage of students compared to other schools in the UC system. During the 2023-2024 academic year, UC Berkeley housed 9,905 students, about 22% of the university’s 45,699 enrolled students, UC Berkeley spokesperson Kyle Gibson said in an email.

UC Berkeley plans to build a $312 million housing complex for about 1,100 of its students at the nearly 3-acre (1.2-hectare) People’s Park, which it owns. Protests have at times escalated into skirmishes between police and activists.

In 2022, activists broke through an 8-foot (2-meter) chain fence erected around the park as crews began clearing trees to make room for the housing project. In January, police officers in riot gear removed activists from the park as crews began walling off the site with double-stacked shipping containers.

The park was founded in 1969 as part of the era’s free speech and Civil Rights Movement and for decades served as a gathering space for free meals, community gardening and art projects, and was used by homeless people. It turned into both a symbol of resistance and mayhem during a deadly confrontation that year known as “Bloody Thursday,” emboldening then-California Gov. Ronald Reagan to send in 3,000 National Guardsmen for a two-week occupation that evoked images of war in a city that was clamoring for peace in Vietnam.

The university is relieved by the court's decision and it will turn its attention to resuming construction at the site, Gibson said.

“Our students and unhoused people desperately need the housing components of the project, 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.

Make UC a Good Neighbor and The People’s Park Historic District Advocacy Group filed a lawsuit against the project, saying that the university system should have considered increased noise under the California Environmental Quality Act, or CEQA. They also said there are more appropriate places the university could build, and the park is a rare green space in one of Berkeley’s densest neighborhoods.

California Gov. Gavin Newsom vowed to work with legislators to amend the law after a state appeals court last year ruled against the University of California, saying that it failed to assess the impact of potential noise “from loud student parties” on residential neighborhoods.

In September, Newsom signed a law that amended CEQA to clarify that housing projects do not need to study the noise generated by prospective future residents.

Harvey Smith, president of the People’s Park Historic District Advocacy Group and one of the plaintiffs, said the decision was disappointing but not surprising.

“It's disappointing because community groups play by the rules and when we win what UC does is go to the Legislature to change the rules,” Smith said.

“Community groups don't have the deep pockets or powerful connections UC does,” he added.


Associated Press Janie Har in San Francisco contributed to this report.

News from © The Associated Press, 2024
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