University resumes tree maintenance at People’s Park

Sather Gate. Image by Keegan Houser

UC Berkeley resumed tree maintenance at People’s Park early on Tuesday. (UC Berkeley photo by Keegan Houser)

This story has been updated to include information about the six people arrested.

This morning, arborists working for UC Berkeley removed five diseased or damaged trees from People’s Park in order to complete tree maintenance work (pruning and removals) that has been taking place on more than a dozen campus sites. These five trees were identified by certified arborists as being in poor condition and were originally slated for removal during work conducted in the park on December 28. At that time, however, protesters blocked access to the trees in question. Seeking to avoid conflict, and hoping that protesters could be convinced to stand down, the campus decided to defer completion of the needed work in the park.

It should be noted that the university routinely evaluates the condition and health of the many trees on its main campus property and, based on guidance from certified arborists, prunes, removes and replaces trees to reduce the risk of physical injury associated with dropped limbs and tree falls and/or for aesthetic reasons.

In an unfortunate and complicating development, on January 4 a small group of protesters established an illegal encampment in People’s Park, violating a long-standing prohibition against camping on University property. Since its establishment, the encampment’s population has fluctuated between 10 and 50 people.

a photo of tents in the park

A group had set up tents inside People’s Park, where camping is not permitted. (UC Berkeley photo by Jeremy Snowden)

Beginning on the night of Monday, January 7, officers from UCPD have repeatedly and regularly informed those in the encampment that they are in violation of the law and subject to arrest. At the same time, the officers have informed occupants of the encampment that there are vacant beds in City of Berkeley shelters, and encouraged those individuals to take advantage of those resources.

(Note: Prior to the establishment of the encampment, the park was cleared of occupants every evening, and that practice will now continue going forward. Approximately 40-50 people regularly stay in the park throughout the day. Some of them have housing in the community. The total number of homeless people who spend time in the park is small, compared to the nearly 1000 individuals who are homeless in the city of Berkeley.)

When arborists and UCPD officers arrived this morning, the encampment was still on site. Eight individuals were occupying the encampment. Six of them were arrested.

Five people were arrested on suspicion of unlawful camping (PC 647(e)), unlawful camping and storage of items on UC property (CCR 100.005) and violation of curfew on UC property (CCR 110.007). The five individuals were identified by UC Berkeley police as: James Cartmill, 47, of San Francisco; Richard Dellantonio, 45, of Seattle; Peter Lorentzen, 45, of Berkeley; Michelle Lot, 48, of Oakland and Jesse Timms, 36.

A sixth person, Vincent Catheline, 24, of Berkeley, was arrested on suspicion of unlawful camping (PC 647(e)). Catheline is a second-year UC Berkeley student. All six people were transported to Santa Rita Jail in Dublin.

The tree work was completed before noon on Tuesday. The university will continue to enforce the law that prohibits overnight camping in the park, as it has for more than 20 years. The park does not have the appropriate facilities or infrastructure needed to ensure public health and safety, nor does the campus have the resources or the responsibility to manage and operate the park as an urban campground.

However, consistent with Chancellor Christ’s commitment to dedicate university resources and efforts in support of the city’s homeless community, UC Berkeley will continue to employ a full time social worker whose main responsibility is to connect homeless individuals who frequent the park with the services and resources they need. The social worker has already helped secure housing for six people who frequented the park, and through his efforts we expect another 10 to 20 people will be housed in the coming months. He has also helped many regular park users maintain or increase their income and benefits and link those in need to primary and/or behavioral health services and shelters.

In recognition the park’s founding ideals and current usage, the campus, as part of its planning for the park, intends to include a supportive housing project for formerly homeless people, which would be co-located on the site with new student housing. In advance of the planned redevelopment, the campus is continuing a wide range of planning and analysis activities necessary for the construction of the student housing, as well as separate supportive housing for members of the homeless community on the People’s Park site. Construction work on those two projects is projected to begin in the summer of 2020.

FAQ

Does this work in People’s Park have any connection to the campus’s plans to build housing on the site?

No. The work in People’s Park is part of a campus-wide effort to address maintenance issues related to trees on university property. Construction of housing is not expected to start until the summer of 2020

Why is camping not allowed in the park?

The park does not have the appropriate facilities or infrastructure needed to ensure public health and safety, and nor does the campus have the necessary staff resources to safely manage and operate an urban campground. The campus is an educational and research institution and its mission does not generally include operation and maintenance of facilities unrelated to its educational and research mission.

Why did the campus allow the encampment to be established?

The campus views the current camping activity as an occupation protest. When it comes to protest management and response, the University exercises patience in order to avoid conflict and confrontation, and always seeks to exhaust efforts to resolve occupations through communications with protestors prior to using force. Given that there has been no overnight camping in the park for more than 20 years, the campus hoped for a return to the status quo and urged those who oppose the tree maintenance to voluntarily dismantle the encampment and vacate the property at night. It is highly unfortunate that those efforts failed in this instance. We regret that precious campus resources must be used, and law enforcement officers diverted from their usual duties, so that the campus can meet its responsibilities to provide for public safety and maintain its property.

Exactly which trees were cut and why?
As per the assessment of certified arborists:

1 Torrey pine: Poor form, structure, and health due to close proximity to other trees.
3 Deodar cedars: All in poor condition that will not improve.
1 Monterey pine: Poor Condition, with thinning canopy and red turpentine beetle infestation.

Approximately how many law enforcement officers are at the park, and which agencies are they from?

As per standard practice, we do not disclose the number of officers used in any specific operation. Members of CHP assisted with this operation as did officers from across the UC system.

What will the cost be of the extra law enforcement officers?

We will release that information when all costs have been received.

How does the campus support members of the homeless community who frequent the park during the day?

Beyond the efforts of the social worker assigned to the park, there are campus groups working on housing and homelessness issues such as the Suitcase Clinic. Members of the campus community are encouraged to volunteer or otherwise contribute to local organizations offering support for the homeless such as the the Berkeley Free Clinic or Berkeley Food and Housing Project; attend a community meeting or training to learn more; serve food at a local meal program or help out at a food pantry; and regardless, to treat your unhoused neighbors, above all, with respect and dignity.

Click here for more info on how and where you can help.

Additional information about the park and campus construction plans can be found below:

New UC Berkeley plans for People’s Park call for student, homeless housing
New concept drawings hint at vision for People’s Park
Frequently asked questions about the plan for People’s Park
Frequently asked questions about supportive housing at People’s Park