Chancellor Carol Christ shared this message with the campus community on Monday, Aug. 15:
Dear Campus Community,
As the academic year begins, I wish to provide an update about current conditions at the People’s Park site and our plans for construction of urgently needed student housing there. I also want to share factual information about the project’s essential elements, which include the preservation of nearly two-thirds of the site as open green space; two housing facilities — one for students and one for extremely low-income members of the greater Berkeley community; the provision of housing, services and a new daytime center for unhoused people who previously gathered on the site and slept there during the pandemic; and a commemoration of the park’s legacy.
We have seen how accurate information addresses concerns about the project, and facilitates understanding of, and support for, the extraordinary steps we have taken to address the needs of not one community, but many: students, unhoused people and members of the broader campus and city communities. These are the reasons that, according to a recent survey, Berkeley students support the project by a two-to-one margin. These are the reasons we have received such strong support from so many of our neighbors and our elected representatives, including the mayor, members of the city council, state legislators and the governor’s office. I want to thank them all for their support and partnership.
Start of construction, and now, a pause
On Aug. 3, we began construction at the site of a new residential hall, slated to be open in fall 2025, ready to accommodate more than 1,000 students at below-market rental rates. Unfortunately, we were forced to evacuate workers after protesters broke through fencing and forced their way onto the site, with some engaging in the sort of violence and vandalism that is inconsistent with the principles of civil disobedience. All told, more than $1.5 million in damage was done. Given our prioritization of safety and conflict avoidance, we also withdrew law enforcement officers.
Then, on Aug. 5, the Appellate Court agreed to hear an appeal from litigants whose effort to stop the project failed at trial. The Appellate Court imposed an injunction that is now in place, requiring a pause in construction of the student housing. While this injunction will add further delay and significant costs to the project, the court has ordered an expedited process, and a ruling is likely in October. We have great confidence in the strength of our legal position and remain strongly committed to the project. Given that construction will take three years, and that it makes most sense to open undergraduate housing in the fall, we are evaluating when to re-start construction should the court rule in our favor. While there is a pressing need for housing, we will not engage in any activity that is likely to disrupt the university’s academic and research missions. Nor will we proceed until we are confident that the site is secure and safe for workers.
Current conditions on the site
In recent days, there have been reports of violence on the site. The people there are trespassing and in violation of the law; the situation is unsettled and unpredictable. Given that construction cannot currently proceed due to the court order, we don’t believe existing conditions warrant the use of force necessary to clear the site. We have, however, increased public safety patrols in the surrounding area, and recommend avoiding the site and its perimeter. The campus hopes to begin a limited cleanup to clear fallen trees, recover damaged equipment and remove dangerous objects. However, we can only proceed if we are certain our workers will be safe. Out of an abundance of caution, a fire watch has been initiated in coordination with the Berkeley Fire Department.
Important background information
The student housing crisis is urgent and real. Every year we are forced to turn away thousands of students seeking below-market-rate campus housing. It is a crisis that particularly impacts students from low-income families. Some 20% of Berkeley students do not live in Berkeley; at any given time as many as 10% of our students are confronting housing insecurity. This community — our students — deserves our care and consideration as much as any other. Students have a need and a right to experience a true sense of belonging to the campus community, and the ability to fully access all that our university has to offer. To do that, students should be able to live close to the campus and among their peers.
These are the reasons that, five years ago, we launched our housing initiative, with the goal of adding 8,000 new beds, enough to provide entering first-year students with two years of housing, and all transfer and graduate students with at least one year of housing. To achieve that goal the university must — and will — build housing on every piece of suitable property we own in close proximity to the campus, including some currently being used for other purposes. It is not an either/or proposition; we cannot meet students’ needs without using a portion of the People’s Park site for student housing.
I regret that we are dealing with violence and vandalism that disregards the needs and perspectives of our students, the position of our city’s elected leaders; and the desires of our neighbors. Below is a fact sheet addressing some of the misunderstandings and misinformation about the project. I urge you to take a look, to seek out additional information on the project website, so you can come to your own conclusions about a carefully crafted plan designed to balance multiple interests by serving and supporting not just some of the people, but all of the people in the campus and city communities.
Carol T. Christ
Fact sheet: People’s Park Student Housing Project
When construction is completed, more than 60% of the site will be dedicated to green, open space, accessible and welcoming for all. The landscape design team is led by Walter Hood, a MacArthur “genius” grant award winner, author of Black Landscapes Matter and a member of the UC Berkeley faculty. He is known for designs born of, and responsive to, the needs of local communities. You can review his work and guiding principles here: https://www.hooddesignstudio.
As noted above, the new residential hall will provide more than 1,000 new beds for Berkeley students at below-market rental rates. The new facility will be built and funded by the university through the issuance of a bond. Revenues generated by rent will be used to fund the building’s operation and maintenance. No private entity will profit from the operation of the housing.
As part of the university’s public service mission, and consistent with our responsibilities as a member of the Berkeley community, we are making available a portion of the site, valued at $8 million, for permanent supportive housing. This building will be constructed and operated by a non-profit developer, Resources for Community Development. The City of Berkeley has already pledged $14 million to help finance this portion of the project. Permanent supportive housing provides a reliable place to live, with support and services, for formerly unhoused people.
Through an unprecedented partnership, the State of California, the City of Berkeley and the university together provided the $6.9 million in funding necessary to offer all of the unhoused people who had been sleeping in the park transitional housing and comprehensive services. As a result, they are now on the path to permanent housing, and are receiving extensive support. Everything being provided is based on what these unhoused members of our community told us they wanted, in the course of research done by Berkeley graduate students, as well as through engagement with the campus social worker who is assigned to support the unhoused community on the south side of campus. No one was required or compelled to accept the offer of housing and services; all but three people did.
Early on, we committed not to proceed with the project unless and until we could offer a new place for unhoused people to gather. Through a partnership with the First Presbyterian Church of Berkeley, we constructed on their property a new drop-in center designed by Berkeley professor emeritus, Sam Davis. With funding from the campus and city, the center is providing services, including food, counseling and housing navigation, through the work of an experienced local non-profit organization, The Village of Love.