BERKELEY — The city of Berkeley is hosting a special meeting next week so that residents can discuss big housing projects in the pipeline for UC Berkeley, with two projects bringing more than 1,500 new housing units to campus.
UC Berkeley houses fewer undergraduate and graduate students than any of the other UC campuses, and an estimated 40% of undergraduate students are unable to live on, or even near, campus, according to the university. With a fall enrollment of 30,800 undergraduate students, that’s more than 12,300 students not living on campus or nearby.
It’s because of UC Berkeley’s dire needs for more student housing, the university says, that it came up with a long-range development plan that outlines what housing projects the university would like to be completed by the 2036-37 school year, when it anticipates UC Berkeley enrollment to be at 48,200 students, with 19,000 faculty and staff. In fall 2020, UC Berkeley had 42,347 undergraduate and graduate students.
Included in that plan is the controversial People’s Park housing project, which has been resisted by some local and student activists who want to maintain the park’s historic past as a site for peace movements.
The 2.8-acre People’s Park, bounded by Haste Street, Bowditch Street and Dwight Way on university property south of the campus, would include two mixed-use buildings, up to 16 stories and open space. One would be housing for students and faculty/staff, with up to 1,187 beds, as well as a residential building for the unhoused, with up to 125 beds, complete with onsite services.
Activists however, say even though the university is offering housing for the homeless, it’s no guarantee the folks currently living in the park will be the ones given priority.
Another project, Anchor House, is expected to be a 16-story residence hall for students, with a priority for transfer students. The project proposes the demolition of 1921 Walnut St., a 111-year-old building the university bought last year. Residents have also been fighting the plan to raze the building and displace current residents.
The entire Anchor House project will be bounded by Berkeley Way, Oxford Street, University Avenue in the northwest part of campus and will include 244 apartments with individual bedrooms for 772 students, as well as 17,000 square feet of ground floor commercial space. If approved in July, it could be ready for students as soon as 2024.
Although Berkeley doesn’t have a direct say in the university plans (all projects go through their own approval process through the UC Regents board), interim city planning director Jordan Klein said it’s important for residents to have input.
“The purpose of the hearing is for the City Council to establish a forum for community members to share comments and thoughts about the draft EIR (environmental impact report),” Klein said in an interview.
The city plans on writing its own comment letter to UC Berkeley, and has even reached out to outside technical and legal experts to review both the long-range plan and draft environmental report, he said.
Now that UC has released public both the long-range plan and the draft environmental impact report, people can submit formal comments for UC regents to consider. Regents could approve of the draft environmental plan as soon as this summer.
Although Tuesday’s meeting won’t be officially included in the UC’s comment portion, Berkeley plans on submitting a transcript along with its comment letter, Klein said.
The city also asked UC Berkeley to extend the comment period, which ends April 21, given the size and complexity of the projects, Klein said. The draft environmental impact report, a vital document that needs approval from UC Regents in order to move the project forward, is also itself a large document, which Klein said “the city felt strongly warranted an extension.”
However, despite multiple requests, UC indicated it does not plan on extending the comment period, Klein said.
The controversial construction of the People’s Park has caused a recent uptick in the resistance movement geared toward protecting homeless people who currently live at People’s Park, and preserving the park as is.
Last month, police said the homes of UC employees thought to be linked to the People’s Park project throughout the Bay Area were targeted with graffiti and vandalism. The vandalism included a brick thrown through a window, slashed tires, broken car windows and graffiti that read “a murderer lives here.”
Some people targeted were not directly related to the project itself — one was a neighbor of an employee, according to the university.
Some of the recent activism started after the university put up fencing as a safety measure while testing soil as part of the planning phases of the People’s Park development. On Jan. 29, a group of 200 students and community activists gathered at the park and tore down the fencing, placing the pieces in front of an administration building on campus.
Some current UC Berkeley students also organized an occupy movement at the park, along with rallies, protests and weekly meetings with longtime activists on how to beautify the park.
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Author: Angela Ruggiero
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