City officials, parks and homeless outreach staff, police and community members will come together Saturday to discuss a range of problems that have cropped up recently at Berkeley’s Ohlone Park.
Councilwoman Linda Maio organized the meeting, which will focus on the increasing impacts of the park’s growing homeless population and concerns about youth gathering at night in the park, as well as issues that have been raised regarding smoking in the park near fire-prone areas and worries about litter.
The park runs along Hearst Avenue from Sacramento Street to Milvia Street.
In an Oct. 16 notice about the meeting, Maio wrote: “In recent weeks a number of email messages have reached me voicing various concerns about our much-loved Ohlone Park. It’s time to meet together to talk about our park. We will share observations, concerns and thoughts with each other, about its entire stretch … and develop approaches to improve the Ohlone Park.”
Maio said she’s hoping the meeting will prompt local residents to create a “friends” group that could help galvanize plans for improvements at the park, including the revival of the “historic monkey bars” near Grant Street. Members of community group Berkeley Partners for Parks also will be in attendance to help strategize about how to move forward.
Maio plans to kick off the meeting with an overview about how the park came into existence. Houses on that land were demolished to make way for BART before voters in Berkeley elected to put the trains underground. Maio will share with meeting attendees how community members helped create the park after the BART plans changed, and fought back against plans for Peralta Community College District administration buildings on the property.
“These things happen through people like us,” Maio said. “Ohlone Park could use a few friends.”
Attendees will have a chance to share what they have been experiencing and seeing in the park.
Jim Hynes, from the city manager’s office, will be on hand to explain the approach the city takes when trying to address issues throughout Berkeley related to homeless camps, RVs and overnight sleeping in public places.
“First they try to help people, to tell them what they can and can’t do,” Maio said. “And, at the same time, people have to understand the parks are there for everybody.”
Read more about homelessness in Berkeley.
Maio said there have been increases in the homeless population citywide and through the region. She said the problem is likely to be “intractable until we get more housing and the economy improves.”
One local resident said the park is beginning to feel like “People’s Park, part 2,” and said his 7-year-old son no longer feels comfortable going to play there due to the growing homeless population.
“Lately it’s been so full of homeless people, it’s depressing and uncomfortable. Many are pretty rough and drugged out looking,” he said. “Like most everyone in Berkeley, I’m torn between feeling empathy for people who have found themselves living on the streets and feeling angry that my son has to be exposed to it.”
He said another large homeless encampment has been active nearby at Hearst Avenue and Martin Luther King Jr. Way, and noted that he hopes the city can find some solutions for those who are living there.
“I would be happy to pay a big tax to clean up the streets and provide better shelter and services,” he said.
The Ohlone Park meeting will take place Saturday, Oct. 24, at 2 p.m. at the North Berkeley Senior Center, at 1901 Hearst Ave. (at Martin Luther King Jr. Way).
Meeting minutes can be requested by emailing email@example.com.
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