People's Park (Berkeley) Source: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/People's_Park_(Berkeley)

People's Park
Peoples Park in Berkeley on April 3 2021.jpg
People's Park, Berkeley
People's Park (Berkeley) is located in Oakland, California
People's Park (Berkeley)
People's Park (Berkeley) is located in San Francisco Bay Area
People's Park (Berkeley)
Nearest cityBerkeley, California
Coordinates37°51′56″N 122°15′25″W / 37.86556°N 122.25694°W / 37.86556; -122.25694Coordinates: 37°51′56″N 122°15′25″W / 37.86556°N 122.25694°W / 37.86556; -122.25694
Area2.8 acres (1.1 ha)
NRHP reference No.100007288
Added to NRHPMay 24, 2022

People's Park in Berkeley, California is a park located just east of Telegraph Avenue, bounded by Haste and Bowditch Streets, and Dwight Way, near the University of California, Berkeley. The park was created during the radical political activism of the late 1960s.[1][2][3][4]

The local Southside neighborhood was the scene of a major confrontation between student protesters and police in May 1969. A mural near the park, painted by Berkeley artist O'Brien Thiele and lawyer/artist Osha Neumann, depicts the shooting of James Rector, who was fatally shot by police on May 15, 1969.[5][6]

While legally the land is the property of the University of California, People's Park has operated since the early 1970s as a free public park. The City of Berkeley declared it a historical and cultural landmark in 1984.[7] Although open to all, it is often viewed as a sanctuary for Berkeley's low income and large homeless population who, along with others, receive meals from East Bay Food Not Bombs regularly. Many homeless outreach organizations, like the Suitcase Clinic, also visit the park regularly.

In response to UC Berkeley's renewed plan to build student housing on the site, the Defend People's Park coalition has formed to organize events, direct actions, mutual aid, and classes at the park since a student occupation began in early 2021.[8] A People's Park Historic District Advocacy Group also formed and pursued national recognition for the park.[9] The park was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 2022.[10][11][12]

Early history to May 1969[edit]

In 1956, the Regents of the University of California decided that they wanted to buy a certain 2.8-acre (11,000-square-meter) plot of land, which contained houses at the time, for future development into student housing, parking, and offices as part of the university's long range development plan. At the time, public funds were lacking to buy the land, and the plan was shelved until June 1967, when the university acquired $1.3 million to buy the land. The land was purchased through the process of eminent domain, which allows government bodies to legally force homeowners to sell their land. The short-term goal was to create athletic fields with student housing being a longer-range goal.[13][14]

Bulldozers arrived February, 1968 and began demolition of the residences. But the university ran out of development funds, leaving the lot only partially cleared of demolition debris and rubble for 14 months. The muddy site became derelict with abandoned cars.[13][15]

On April 13, 1969, local merchants and residents held a meeting to discuss possible uses for the derelict site. At the time, student activist Wendy Schlesinger and Michael Delacour (a former defense contractor employee who had become an anti-war activist[16]) had become attached to the area, as they had been using it as a clandestine rendezvous hideout for a secret romantic affair.[13] The pair of lovers presented a plan for developing the under-utilized, university-owned land into a public park. This plan was approved by the attendees, but not by the university. Stew Albert, a co-founder of the Yippie Party, agreed to write an article for the local counter-culture newspaper, the Berkeley Barb, on the subject of the park, particularly to call for help from local residents.[13]

A group of people took some corporate land, owned by the University of California, that was a parking lot and turned it into a park and then said, 'We're using the land better than you used it; it's ours.'

 — Frank Bardacke, a participant in the park's development, quoted in the documentary film Berkeley in the Sixties[17]

Michael Delacour stated, "We wanted a free speech area that wasn't really controlled like Sproul Plaza [the plaza at the south entrance to UC Berkeley] was. It was another place to organize, another place to have a rally. The park was secondary."[18] The university's Free Speech microphone was available to all students, with few (if any) restrictions on speech. The construction of the park involved many of the same people and politics as the 1964 Free Speech Movement.[17]

On April 18, 1969, Albert's article appeared in the Berkeley Barb, and on Sunday, April 20, more than 100 people arrived at the site to begin building the park. Local landscape architect Jon Read and many others contributed trees, flowers, shrubs, and sod. Free food was provided, and community development of the park proceeded. Eventually, about 1,000 people became directly involved, with many more donating money and materials. The park was essentially complete by mid-May.[13][15][18]

On April 28, 1969, Berkeley Vice Chancellor Earl Cheit released plans for a sports field to be built on the site. This plan conflicted with the plans of the People's Park activists. However, Cheit stated that he would take no action without notifying the park builders.

Two days later, on April 30, Cheit allocated control over one quarter of the plot to the park's builders.

On May 6, Chancellor Roger W. Heyns met with members of the People's Park committee, student representatives, and faculty from the College of Environmental Design. He set a time limit of three weeks for this group to produce a plan for the park, and he reiterated his promise that construction would not begin without prior warning.[19]

On May 13, Chancellor Heyns notified media via a press release that the university would build a fence around the property and begin construction.[13]

May 15, 1969: "Bloody Thursday"[edit]

Map of Berkeley Southside. The green area is People's Park; the brown patterned area is UC Berkeley property.

After its creation on April 20, during its first three weeks People's Park was used by both university students and local residents, and local Telegraph Avenue merchants voiced their appreciation for the community's efforts to improve the neighborhood.[15][20] Objections to the expropriation of university property tended to be mild, even among school administrators.

However, Governor Ronald Reagan had been publicly critical of university administrators for tolerating student demonstrations at the Berkeley campus.[21] He had received popular support for his 1966 gubernatorial campaign promise to crack down on what the public perceived as a generally lax attitude at California's public universities. Reagan called the Berkeley campus "a haven for communist sympathizers, protesters, and sex deviants."[21][22] Reagan considered the creation of the leftist park a direct challenge to the property rights of the university, and he found in it an opportunity to fulfill his campaign promise.

On Thursday, May 15, 1969, at 4:30 a.m., Governor Reagan sent California Highway Patrol and Berkeley police officers into People's Park, overriding Chancellor Heyns' May 6 promise that nothing would be done without warning. The officers cleared an 8-block area around the park while a large section of what had been planted was destroyed and an 8-foot (2.4-metre)-tall perimeter chain-link wire fence was installed to keep people out and to prevent the planting of more trees, grass, flowers, or shrubs.[23]

The action came at the request of Berkeley's Republican mayor, Wallace J.S. Johnson.[24] It became the impetus for the "most violent confrontation in the university's history."[25]

Rally becomes protest[edit]

Beginning at noon on May 15, 1969[23] about 3,000 people appeared in Sproul Plaza at nearby UC Berkeley for a rally, the original purpose of which was to discuss the Arab–Israeli conflict. Several people spoke; then, Michael Lerner ceded the Free Speech platform to ASUC Student Body President Dan Siegel because students were concerned about the fencing-off and destruction of the park. Siegel said later that he never intended to precipitate a riot; however, when he shouted "Let's take the park!,"[26] police turned off the sound system.[27] The crowd responded spontaneously, moving down Telegraph Avenue toward People's Park chanting, "We want the park!"[1]

Arriving in the early afternoon, protesters were met by the remaining 159 Berkeley and university police officers assigned to guard the fenced-off park site. The protesters opened a fire hydrant, several hundred protesters attempted to tear down the fence and threw bottles, rocks, and bricks at the officers, and then the officers fired tear gas canisters.[28] A major confrontation ensued between police and the crowd, which grew to 4,000.[29] Initial attempts by the police to disperse the protesters were not successful, and more officers were called in from surrounding cities. At least one car was set on fire.[28] A large group of protesters confronted a small group of sheriff's deputies who turned and ran. The crowd of protesters let out a cheer and briefly chased after them until the sheriff's deputies ran into a used car facility. The crowd then turned around and ran back to a patrol car which they overturned and set on fire.


Reagan's Chief of Staff, Edwin Meese III, a former district attorney from Alameda County and alumnus of Berkeley's law school, had established a reputation for firm opposition to those protesting the Vietnam War at the Oakland Induction Center and elsewhere. Meese assumed responsibility for the governmental response to the People's Park protest, and he called in the Alameda County Sheriff's deputies, which brought the total police presence to 791 officers from various jurisdictions.[21]

Under Meese's direction, police were permitted to use whatever methods they chose against the crowds, which had swelled to approximately 6,000 people. Officers in full riot gear (helmets, shields, and gas masks) obscured their badges to avoid being identified and headed into the crowds with nightsticks swinging.[30]

"The indiscriminate use of shotguns [was] sheer insanity."

 — Dr. Harry Brean, chief radiologist at Berkeley's Herrick Hospital[29]

As the protesters retreated, the Alameda County Sheriff's deputies pursued them several blocks down Telegraph Avenue as far as Willard Junior High School at Derby Street, firing tear gas canisters and "00" buckshot at the crowd's backs as they fled.

Authorities initially claimed that only birdshot had been used as shotgun ammunition. When physicians provided "00" pellets removed from the wounded as evidence that buckshot had been used,[31] Sheriff Frank Madigan of Alameda County justified the use of shotguns loaded with lethal buckshot by stating, "The choice was essentially this: to use shotguns—because we didn't have the available manpower—or retreat and abandon the City of Berkeley to the mob."[30] Sheriff Madigan did admit, however, that some of his deputies (many of whom were Vietnam War veterans) had been overly aggressive in their pursuit of the protesters, acting "as though they were Viet Cong."[32][33]


Alameda County Sheriff's deputies also used shotguns to fire at people sitting on the roof at the Telegraph Repertory Cinema. James Rector was visiting friends in Berkeley and watching from the roof of Granma Books when he was shot by police;[34] he died on May 19.[6][35] The Alamada County Coroner's report listed cause of death as "shock and hemorrhage due to multiple shotgun wounds and perforation of the aorta." Governor Reagan conceded that Rector was probably shot by police but justified the bearing of firearms, saying that "it's very naive to assume that you should send anyone into that kind of conflict with a flyswatter. He's got to have an appropriate weapon."[36][37] The University of California Police Department (UCPD) said Rector threw steel rebar down onto the police; however, Time magazine claimed that Rector was a bystander, not a protester.[33]

A carpenter, Alan Blanchard, was permanently blinded by a load of birdshot directly to his face.[33]

At least 128 Berkeley residents were admitted to local hospitals for head trauma, shotgun wounds, and other serious injuries inflicted by police. The actual number of seriously wounded was likely much higher, because many of the injured did not seek treatment at local hospitals to avoid being arrested.[13] Local medical students and interns organized volunteer mobile first-aid teams to help protesters and bystanders injured by buckshot, nightsticks, or tear gas. One local hospital reported two students wounded with large caliber rifles as well.[38]

News reports at the time of the shooting indicated that 50 were injured, including five police officers.[39] Some local hospital logs indicate that 19 police officers or Alameda County Sheriff's deputies were treated for minor injuries; none were hospitalized.[38] However, the UCPD claims that 111 police officers were injured, including one California Highway Patrol Officer, Albert Bradley, who was knifed in the chest.[28]

State of emergency[edit]


March Triggers Ave. Gassing;

Bystanders, Students Wounded;

Emergency, Curfew Enforced

 — Front page headline of student newspaper The Daily Californian for May 16, 1969[40]

That evening, Governor Reagan declared a state of emergency in Berkeley and sent in 2,700 National Guard troops.[21][29] The Berkeley City Council symbolically voted 8–1 against the decision.[32][38] For two weeks, the streets of Berkeley were patrolled by National Guardsmen, who broke up even small demonstrations with tear gas.[30] Governor Reagan was steadfast and unapologetic: "Once the dogs of war have been unleashed, you must expect things will happen, and that people, being human, will make mistakes on both sides."[29]

During the People's Park incident, National Guard troops were stationed in front of Berkeley's empty lots to prevent protesters from planting flowers, shrubs, or trees. Young hippie women taunted and teased the troops, on one occasion handing out marijuana-laced brownies and lemonade spiked with LSD.[33] According to commanding Major General Glenn C. Ames, "LSD had been injected into fudge, oranges and apple juice which they received from young hippie-type females."[41] Some protesters, their faces hidden with scarves, challenged police and National Guard troops. Hundreds were arrested.[30]

Immediate aftermath[edit]

On Wednesday, May 21, 1969, a midday memorial was held for student James Rector at Sproul Plaza on the university campus, with several thousand people attending.

Demonstrations continued for several days after Bloody Thursday. A crowd of approximately 400 were driven from Sproul Plaza to Telegraph Avenue by tear gas on May 19.[42] On Thursday, May 22, 1969, about 250 demonstrators were arrested and charged with unlawful assembly; bail was set at $800.[43]

Showing solidarity with students, 177 faculty members said that they were "unwilling to teach until peace has been achieved by the removal of police and troops."[44] On May 23, the Berkeley faculty senate endorsed (642 to 95) a proposal by the College of Environmental Designs to have the park become the centerpiece of an experiment in community-generated design.[45]

In a separate university referendum, UC Berkeley students voted 12,719 to 2,175 in favor of keeping the park; the turnout represented about half of the registered student body.[45][46] Although Chancellor Heyns supported a proposal to lease the site to the city as a community park,[47] the Board of Regents voted to proceed with the construction of married student apartments in June 1969.[48]

Responses to violence[edit]

Law enforcement was using a new form of crowd control, pepper gas. The editorial offices of Berkeley Tribe were sprayed with pepper gas and had tear gas canisters fired into the offices, injuring underground press staff.

On May 20, 1969, National Guard helicopters flew over the Berkeley campus, dispensing airborne tear gas that winds dispersed over the entire city, sending school children miles away to hospitals. This was one of the largest deployments of tear gas during the Vietnam era protests.[49] Governor Reagan would concede that this might have been a "tactical mistake."[50] It had not yet been banned from warfare under the Chemical Weapons Convention.

The Black Panther, official newspaper of the Black Panther Party, stated in an issue on fascism that: "[The pigs] tear gassed and beat up a lot of innocent people ... The chemical that they used, is the same kind of chemical that the U.S. Imperialists are using against the Vietnamese people."[51]

The Washington Post wrote of the incident in an editorial: "[T]he indiscriminate gassing of a thousand people not at the time in violation of any law seems more than a little excessive." The editorial also criticized legislation before the U.S. House of Representatives that would have "cut off Federal aid to universities which fail to head off campus disorders."[52]

That legislation, the Higher Education Protection and Freedom of Expression Act of 1969 (Campus Disorder Bill, HR 11941, 91st Congress), was a response to mass protests and demonstrations at universities and colleges across the nation. It was introduced by House Special Subcommittee on Education chair Rep. Edith Green (D-OR). The bill would have required colleges and universities to file plans of action for dealing with campus unrest with the U.S. Commissioner of Education. The bill gave the institutions the power to suspend federal aid to students convicted—in court or by the university—of violating campus rules in connection with student riots. Any school that did not file such plans would lose federal funding.[53][54][55]

Governor Reagan supported the federal legislation; in a March 19, 1969 statement, he urged Congress to "be equally concerned about those who commit violence who are not receiving aid." On May 20, 1969, Attorney General John N. Mitchell advised the Committee that existing law was "adequate."[53] On June 13, Governor Reagan defended his actions in a televised speech delivered from San Francisco; public response was overwhelmingly supportive of the governor's actions.[56]

Peaceful protest[edit]

By May 26, the city-wide curfew and ban on gatherings had been lifted, although 200 members of the National Guard remained to guard the fenced-off park,[57] anticipating unrest from a march planned for May 30. Governor Reagan pledged that "whatever force is necessary will be on hand",[58] although protest leaders declared the march would be non-violent.[47] Demonstrators engaged in shop-ins, park-ins, and other non-violent tactics to counter the police action.[59]

On May 30, 1969, 30,000 Berkeley citizens (out of a population of 100,000) secured a city permit and marched without incident past the barricaded People's Park to protest Governor Reagan's occupation of their city, the death of James Rector, the blinding of Alan Blanchard, and the many injuries inflicted by police.[15] Young women slid flowers down the muzzles of bayoneted National Guard rifles,[38] and a small airplane flew over the city trailing a banner that read, "Let A Thousand Parks Bloom."[15][60]

Nevertheless, over the next few weeks National Guard troops broke up any assemblies of more than four people who congregated for any purpose on the streets of Berkeley, day or night. In the early summer, troops deployed in downtown Berkeley surrounded several thousand protesters and bystanders, emptying businesses, restaurants, and retail outlets of their owners and customers, and arresting them en masse. At one point, the National Guard arrested 482 people by sectioning off a large part of a main street, including protestors and bystanders.[59]

One year later[edit]

In an address before the California Council of Growers on April 7, 1970, almost a year after "Bloody Thursday" and the death of James Rector, Governor Reagan defended his decision to use the California National Guard to quell Berkeley protests: "If it takes a bloodbath, let's get it over with. No more appeasement."[61] Berkeley Tribe editors decided to issue this quote in large type on the cover of its next edition.[62][63][64][65]


The May 1969 confrontation in People's Park grew out of the counterculture of the 1960s.[46] Berkeley had been the site of the first large-scale antiwar demonstration in the country on September 30, 1964.[66]

Among the student protests of the late 1960s, the People's Park confrontation came after the 1968 protests at Columbia University, the Democratic National Convention and Kent State killings and before the burning of a branch of Bank of America in Isla Vista.[67] It occurred on the heels of the Stanford University April 3 movement, where students protested University-sponsored war-related research by occupying Encina Hall.[68]

Unlike other student protests of the late 1960s, most of which were at least partly in opposition to the U.S. involvement in the Vietnam War, the initial protests at People's Park were mostly in response to a local disagreement about land use.


Unofficial memorial: 25 years of People's Park. "Remove parking lot, put in a paradise" is an allusion to Joni Mitchell's song "Big Yellow Taxi".

After the peaceful march in support of People's Park on May 30, 1969, the university decided to keep the 8-foot-tall perimeter chain-link wire fence and maintain a 24-hour guard over the site. On June 20, the University of California Regents voted to turn the People's Park site into a soccer field and parking lot.[48]

In March 1971, when it seemed as though construction of the parking lot and soccer field might proceed, another People's Park protest occurred, resulting in 44 arrests.

In May 1972, an outraged crowd tore down the perimeter chain-link wire fence surrounding the People's Park site after President Richard Nixon announced his intention to mine North Vietnam's main port. In September, the Berkeley City Council voted to lease the park site from the university. The Berkeley community rebuilt the park, mainly with donated labor and materials. Various local groups contributed to managing the park during rebuilding.

Dear Indugu on the People's Stage (2010)

In 1979, the university tried to convert the west end of the park, which was already a no-cost parking lot, into a fee lot for students and faculty only. The west end of the park was (and remains) the location of the People's Stage, a permanent bandstand that had just been erected on the edge of the lawn within the no-cost parking lot. Completed in the spring of 1979, it had been designed and constructed through user-development and voluntary community participation. This effort was coordinated by the People's Park Council, a democratic group of park advocates, and the People's Park Project/Native Plant Forum. Park users and organizers believed that the university's main purpose in attempting to convert the parking lot was the destruction of the People's Stage in order to suppress free speech and music, both in the park and in the neighborhood south of campus as a whole. It was also widely believed that the foray into the west end warned of the dispossession of the entire park for the purpose of university construction. A spontaneous protest in the fall of 1979 led to an occupation of the west end that continued uninterrupted throughout December 1979. Park volunteers tore up the asphalt and heaped it up as barricades next to the sidewalks along Dwight Way and Haste Street. This confrontation led to negotiations between the university and the park activists. The park activists were led by the People's Park Council, which included park organizers and occupiers, as well as other community members. The university eventually capitulated. Meanwhile, the occupiers, organizers, and volunteer gardeners transformed the former parking lot into a newly cultivated organic community gardening area, which remains to this day.

People's Park Annex/Ohlone Park[edit]

 The Bay Area Rapid Transit has substantial property under which the new San Francisco trains will run. The surface has been offered to the city, without charge, for such a park and is located only a few blocks away from this park. Actually, the space available for a park there is substantially larger. If the real issue is a park for people, why not develop that?

 — State Sen. Gordon Cologne, June 1969 editorial, The Desert Sun[69]

In the immediate aftermath of the May 1969 People's Park demonstrations, and consistent with their goal of "letting a thousand parks bloom," on May 25,[57][70] People's Park activists began gardening a two-block strip of land called the "Hearst Corridor," located adjacent to Hearst Avenue just northwest of the university campus. The Hearst Corridor was a strip of land along the north side of Hearst Avenue that had been left largely untended after the houses had been torn down to facilitate completion of an underground subway line by the Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) District. Although BART officials offered to lease the site to the city for a park,[71] on the night of June 6, approximately 400 people were forcibly evicted from what was then called "People's Park No. 2" by Berkeley police, who also removed playground equipment and trees that had been recently planted.[72]

During the 1970s, local residents, especially George Garvin, pursued gardening and user development of this land, which became known as "People's Park Annex." Later on, additional volunteers donated time and energy to the Annex, led by David Axelrod and Charlotte Pyle, urban gardeners who were among the original organizers of the People's Park Project/Native Plant Forum.

As neighborhood and community groups stepped up their support for the preservation and development of the Annex, BART abandoned its original plan to build apartment complexes on Hearst Corridor. The City of Berkeley negotiated with BART to secure permanent above-ground rights to the entire five block strip of land, between Martin Luther King Jr. Way and Sacramento Avenue. By the early 1980s, this land had become a city park comprising 9.8 acres (40,000 m2), which residents decided to name "Ohlone Park" in honor of the Ohlone band of Native Americans who once lived there.

Jungle gym sculpture from the People's Park Annex Period (photo from 2011)

Today, the Berkeley Parks and Recreation Commission mediates neighborhood and community feedback concerning issues of park design and the maintenance, operation, and development of Ohlone Park amenities. These amenities—which include pedestrian and bicycle paths, children's playgrounds, a dog park, basketball and volleyball courts, a softball/soccer field, toilets, picnic areas, and community gardens—continue to serve the people and pets of Berkeley.

1990s: Volleyball Court and Resistance[edit]

Installation of Court[edit]

In the spring of 1991, the university released plans to redevelop People's Park. They proposed removing the Free Speech Stage and installing several large volleyball courts throughout the park. Bulldozers were ushered in, accompanied by riot police, to install the sand volleyball courts.[73]

A new wave of protest began, with the rallying slogan "Defend the Park," which was shared in coordinated solidarity with organizers resisting gentrification and the displacement of poor and unhoused people at Tompkins Square Park in the Lower East Side of New York City.[74]

"Since 1972, the university has fought a sniper war with the community, hoping the casualties would wear us down, gambling that Berkeley's shifting population would eventually erase the social memory of the park's importance, and planning to turn the community against the park.

Steve Stallone, East Bay Guardian[citation needed]

Emergency committees were established, such as the People's Park Defense Union. Nightly vigils and open meetings were held each night in the summer of 1991. An event hotline was also established to share information about rallies, direct action, and community events to defend the park. As a UC construction team arrived in July 1991, hundreds of protesters gathered to prevent the bulldozer from breaking ground. Several arrests were made.

Protests grew each day, and police escalated to shooting wood pellets and rubber bullets at demonstrators. More than 95 people were arrested in the first four days, and 3 people injured, including a photographer for the San Francisco Examiner. The Examiner later reported the total cost to UC of installing one sand volleyball court to be $1 million. UC reportedly paid individuals $15 per hour to play volleyball in order to make the courts appear to be in use, with round-the-clock police supervision. When a group slapped away a volleyball during play and dunked it into a porto-potty toilet, police tried to press charges against those responsible.[73]

On December 15, 1991, the Daily Californian reported that "an unidentified vandal used a chainsaw to cut down the central wooden post of the volleyball court."[73] The chainsaw is now displayed at the Long Haul Infoshop in Berkeley. The sand boxes remained until 1997, however, when UC finally removed them from the park.[73]

2000s to 2010s[edit]

In 2011, People's Park saw a new wave of protests, known as the "tree-sit." It consisted of a series of individual "tree-sitters" who occupied a wooden platform in one of the trees in People's Park. The protests were troubled by abrupt interruptions and altercations. One protester was arrested,[75] another fell from the tree while sleeping.[76] But despite the transitions and overlapping political platforms, such as the 10 PM curfew[77] and the university's plans for development, the protests lasted throughout most of the fall of 2011. The tree-sits were also supported by Zachary RunningWolf, a Berkeley activist and several-time mayoral candidate, who actively spoke to the media about the protesters and the causes they were championing.[75] RunningWolf claimed that the central motive for the protests was to demonstrate that "poverty is not a crime."[76]

Despite the protests, in late 2011, UC Berkeley bulldozed the west end of People's Park, tearing up the decades-old community garden and plowing down mature trees in what a press release issued by the school described as an effort to provide students and the broader community with safer, more sanitary conditions.[78][79] This angered some Berkeley students and residents, who noted that the bulldozing took place during winter break when many students were away from campus, and followed the administration-backed police response at Occupy Cal less than two months prior.

People's Park has been the subject of long-running contention between those who see it as a haven for the poor; and those who see it as essential green space south of campus and a memorial to the Free Speech Movement that is crime-infested and unfriendly to visitors and families. While the park has public bathrooms, gardens, and a playground area, many residents do not see it as a welcoming place, citing drug use and a high crime rate.[80] A San Francisco Chronicle article on January 13, 2008, referred to People's Park as "a forlorn and somewhat menacing hub for drug users and the homeless." The same article quoted denizens and supporters of the park saying it was "perfectly safe, clean and accessible."[81] In May 2018, UC Berkeley reported that campus police had been called 1,585 times to People's Park in the previous year.[82] The university also said there had been 10,102 criminal incidents in the park between 2012 and 2017.[83] A 2015 investigation by the Daily Californian found that most crimes reported at People's Park were related to "quality-of-life" such as drug and alcohol violations, and disorderly conduct, and that there were also multiple reports of battery, aggravated theft, robbery and assault at the park.[84]

2018-2020: Proposed development[edit]

In 2018, UC Berkeley unveiled a plan for People's Park that would include the construction of housing for as many as 1,000 students, supportive housing for the homeless or military veterans, and a memorial honoring the park's history and legacy.[82][83][85][86] On August 29, 2019, Chancellor Carol T. Christ confirmed plans to create student housing for 600-1000 students, and supportive housing for 100-125 people. San Francisco-based LMS architects has been selected to build the housing, and Christ stated that they are moving to a time of "extensive public comment" on the plans for construction.[87] The supportive housing is proposed to be built by a nonprofit, Resources for Community Development.

The People's Park Housing Project is part of the university's Long-Range Development Plan (LRDP). Updated nearly every 15 years, the LRDP is guided by the campus' commitments to maintaining "sustainability, being a good neighbor and community partner, as well as serving the people of California."[88]  In February 2020, the university held its first public comment forum. Advocates of the park held a rally to protest the proposal, with students citing the historical, cultural, and social relevance of the park.[89]

On April 17, 2020, the University of California, Berkeley published its plans for the People's Park Housing Project during its third virtual open house. Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, and the following shelter-in-place ordinances, the university moving forward with the plan was faced with significant backlash. The Mayor of Berkeley, Jesse Arreguin, wrote "I think we should launch this process at a time and in a way that allows full transparency and participation. I therefore reiterate my request that the campus delay the public comment period until after the Shelter in Place order is lifted."[90]

On April 29, 2020, the Associated Students of the University of California (ASUC), planned to vote on re-establishing the nonpartisan housing commission.[91] The commission would bring more transparency and communication between the UC Berkeley administration and the student body regarding campus housing projects, with collaboration with community non-profits like the People's Park Committee and Suitcase Clinic.

2021: Defend People's Park[edit]

In January 2021, UC Berkeley put up fencing to conduct seismic testing in preparation for the development. People lacking housing who had set up tents in the park during the COVID-19 pandemic, were forced to move by UC police. In response, a rally was organized on January 29. Hundreds of people, predominantly students, tore down the fences and carried them down Telegraph Avenue. They were deposited on the front steps of the UC Berkeley administration building, Sproul Hall.[92]

The park with tents in April 2021.

Occupation, Defense, and Mutual Aid[edit]

The action led to the creation of a community group, "Defend People's Park." This group began a 24-hour "occupation" of the park to prevent the university from drilling soil samples, even with the fences removed. As part of the occupation, resources such as tents and food were distributed to long-time park community members, gardening events, and film screenings were organized.[93] The short-term demands and goals of the occupation include:

  • An immediate halt and cancellation of any development plans in People's Park
  • Defunding and disarming of UCPD
  • Respecting the autonomy of park users and residents
  • Expanding social and health services
  • Communicating transparently about any proposed or current activity in the park.[94][citation needed]

In a statement issued shortly after the occupation began, UC Berkeley Chancellor Carol Christ described building on the park as a "a unique opportunity for a win-win-win-win."[95] Defend People's Park released a statement in response, via Instagram, describing both the "student housing" and "supportive housing" developments proposed by the university as too expensive. The response also noted that the supportive housing Chancellor Christ characterized as serving "very low-income and unhoused members of our community" could cost up to $1,400 per month for a studio apartment and have income requirements of up to $48,000 per year.[96][citation needed]

The park defense coalition and the cessation of UC development on People's Park has received the support of the Daily Californian editorial board,[97] Cal Black Student Union, Pour Out Pepsi, Hermanos Unidos, members of the ASUC student government and academic senate, the Berkeley Student Cooperative, Berkeley Food Collective, Berkeley Free Clinic, Suitcase Clinic, East Bay Outreach Coalition, Berkeley Copwatch, House the Bay, Cal Berkeley Democrats, and the UCB Latinx Caucus.[94][citation needed]

Defend People's Park continues to host weekly activities at the park, such as self-defense classes, art, classes. A follow-up protest occurred on March 8.[94][citation needed] Another protest on April 25 was co-organized with tenants from 1921 Walnut St. — a small old apartment building UC Berkeley purchased in 2020 to be torn down to make way for a modern and much larger apartment building in 2022.[98]

Community Involvement[edit]

Green Infrastructure[edit]

When the Park was established in 1969, located between the Derby and Potters watershed, it became one of the oldest natural storm water management systems in Southside, Berkeley.[99]  The park is also home to a community garden, that grows vegetables including: Artichoke, Asparagus, Basil, Fava Beans, Beets, Broccoli, Cabbage, Carrots, Celeriac, Celery, Chard, Chayote, Chives, Kohl Rabi, Leek, Lettuce, Mustard, Onion, Parsley, Peas, Potatoes, Radish, Spinach, Sunchokes, and Turnips. Community members meet every Saturday from 1-4 pm PST at the Northwest Entrance of the park to cultivate these plants.[100]

Mutual Aid[edit]

Community organizations visit the Park regularly bringing supplies, food, services, and resources to the residents of the Park as well as community members. The Suitcase Clinic as well as the Berkeley Outreach Coalition visit weekly on Mondays and Tuesdays. The Cal Sikh Student Association provide clothes and meals every month. Food not Bombs[101] serve hot meals at the Park every day.

Free Box[edit]

The park has seen various projects come and go over the decades. The "Free Box" operated as a clothes donation drop-off site for many years until it was destroyed by arson in 1995.[citation needed] Subsequent attempts to rebuild it were dismantled by University police.

National Historical Recognition[edit]

(May 27, 2022) – Nationally significant People's Park was officially listed on the National Register of Historic Places on May 24, 2022.

This designation underscores the historical, cultural, architectural and environmental assets of this irreplaceable open space. The park has an over half-century legacy of political and cultural events, a bio system of flora and fauna, and a surround of highly significant architecture.

This recognition follows being nominated unanimously by the California State Historical Resources Commission. People's Park has played a key role as a gathering place for free speech during the decades of anti-war and civil rights struggles.

Former Berkeley Mayor Gus Newport commented that, “The stability of cities and towns is formed from the history of planning and participation of citizens. People's Park very much reflects and proves this. People's Park is very deserving of being on the National Register of Historic Places.”

However, the University of California plans to destroy the park despite its national significance. Harvey Smith, president of the People's Park Historic District Advocacy Group, commented that, “Its planned destruction is unconscionable. The park’s importance is beyond a squabble in Berkeley or within California. It is a nationally recognized historic site.”

Smith suggests the park should be preserved so that its appearance and infrastructure are no different than any other park within the City of Berkeley or any green space within the UC Berkeley campus. This is entirely possible once the present homeless population of the park is relocated to housing as planned by the City of Berkeley and the university.

The ill-considered plan of UC Berkeley to build on the park should be scuttled because the university has many alternative sites for student housing. Chief among them is the Ellsworth Parking Structure, which is one block away from People's Park. Keeping a parking lot and destroying a park is a totally irresponsible action in the age of extreme climate change. UC Berkeley's plan to demolish Evans Hall to create open space on the campus should be matched by maintaining the open space of People's Park in the community.

Both the City of Berkeley and UC Berkeley celebrate the Free Speech and Sixties history of the Telegraph Avenue corridor. It is an asset to both the city and university, and among the reasons visitors from all parts of the globe are drawn to Berkeley. Recognizing People's Park for the asset that it is and then preserving and enhancing it can only add to its value as a treasured Berkeley attraction.

The National Register of Historic Places is the official list of the Nation's historic places worthy of preservation. Authorized by the National Historic Preservation Act of 1966, the National Park Service's National Register of Historic Places is part of a national program to coordinate and support public and private efforts to identify, evaluate, and protect America's historic and archeological resources.

More information on the People's Park Historic District Advocacy Group can be found at peoplesparkhxdist.org. For Additional Information: Harvey Smith 510-684-0414

See also[edit]


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  • California Governor's Office. The "People's Park" - A Report on the Confrontation at Berkeley, California. Submitted to Gov. Ronald Reagan. July 1, 1969.
  • Gruen, Gruen and Associates. Southside Student Housing Project Preliminary Environmental Study. Report to UCB Chancellor. February 1974.
  • People's Park Handbills. Distributed May–April 1969. Located at the Bancroft Library, University of California, Berkeley.
  • Pichirall, Joe. The Daily Californian. Cover Story on People's Park. May 16, 1969.
  • "Reagan's Reaction to Riot: Call Park Here 'Excuse'" The Daily Californian. May 16, 1969.
  • Statement on People's Park. University of California, Berkeley – Office of Public Information. April 30, 1969.
  • Weiss, Norman. The Daily Californian. "People's Park: Then & Now." March 17, 1997.

Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]