Berkeley Mayor Jesse Arreguín and other City Council members are concerned that the security perimeters UC Berkeley is establishing for a conservative speaker on Thursday will push protesters into city streets, which may create problems for merchants and city police.
Cal announced last week that it is going to establish a perimeter around Zellerbach Hall, where conservative author and commentator Ben Shapiro is slated to talk at 7 p.m. No one will be allowed inside the perimeter after 5:30 p.m. without a ticket to the talk and by showing identification. The university also plans to close six nearby buildings and a number of parking lots at 4 p.m., as well as cordon off Lower Sproul Plaza and part of Upper Sproul, said Arreguín. Since a protest is planned by the group Refuse Fascism, demonstrators won’t have much room to maneuver, he said.
“The university is not an island,” said Arreguín. “There is a city around it… Having these events in the evening so close to downtown and Telegraph Avenue, and having a security plan that inevitably will result in these crowds moving onto city property, impacts the city and local businesses.”
Arreguín said he hopes to talk to UC Berkeley Chancellor Carol Christ soon to make his point.
On Feb. 1 when black-clad protesters surged onto Sproul Plaza to stop a planned speech by former Breitbart contributor Milo Yiannopoulos, they broke windows, set things on fire, and caused about $100,000 worth of destruction on campus. Then, antifa protesters rampaged downtown and destroyed about $500,000 of property by breaking windows and ATM machines.
Dan Mogulof, a spokesman for UC Berkeley, said Monday that the university is committed to working closely with Berkeley and is open to making changes to its plans. He said UC officials had been in touch with Berkeley city officials and police.
“We very much value our relationship with the city and know that close collaboration is the key to providing security for our community,” said Mogulof. “We are always ready to listen to the city’s concerns and do whatever we can to support our communities’ needs for safety and security.”
Arreguín also expressed frustration that UC officials have allowed the Shapiro event to happen at night, he said. After the violence surrounding Yiannopoulos, the city had strongly suggested that future events with controversial speakers happen during the day or even on weekends. Holding events at night is an invitation to violence, said Arreguín.
“We would prefer these events not happen in the evening hours because that’s what black bloc wants,” said Arreguín. “They want to the cover of night to commit vandalism and violence.”
“Pushing problems onto the city is not the solution”
John Caner, director of the Downtown Berkeley Association, pointed out that the recent daytime rallies had not resulted in property damage, but the one nighttime rally had.
“Pushing the problems onto the city is not the solution,” said Caner.
The university has tried to schedule speakers, such as Ann Coulter and David Horowitz, during the day but has gotten pushback from the student groups organizing the events. The Berkeley College Republicans and Young America’s Foundation are suing UC Berkeley for setting limits on when speakers can appear, claiming that the university does not treat liberal speakers that way. When the College Republicans announced in July they had invited Shapiro to campus, they said they saw the event as a “test case” for the university.
When Cal determined no free venues were available for the speaker at the time students had requested, UC officials agreed to pay for Shapiro to talk at Zellerbach Hall. UC is fronting the rental costs of the hall, which range from $12,000 to $13,500, depending on the size of the audience. The Berkeley College Republicans are expected to pay for security, a fee that could reach $9,000. In the past, outside groups have fronted the money to BCR.
Zellerbach Hall can hold 2,000 people but UC is closing off some of the balconies as a safety precaution so only about 1,000 people will be able to see Shapiro.
Berkeley and UC police are planning on having a strong presence on and around campus during Shapiro’s talk. The Berkeley City Council is scheduled to meet Tuesday at 3 p.m. to consider allowing police to use pepper spray as part of its crowd-control measures. A 1997 Berkeley law bans using pepper spray for that purpose.
The five protests in Berkeley this year have been costly for the city, and it is money City Councilwoman Sophie Hahn said could have been spent on other pressing needs, like creating more temporary housing for those without permanent shelter. City officials estimate Berkeley has spent $500,000 so far in police overtime and other costs on the protests of Feb. 1, March 4, April 15, April 27, and August 27.
In addition to Shapiro’s appearance on Thursday, a conservative UC Berkeley publication, the Berkeley Patriot, is planning to host four days of speakers starting Sept. 24. Final details about the week and who is exactly coming have not been released. So far, Milo Yiannopoulos has said he is coming, and the conservative author Ann Coulter and Steve Bannon, the former White House advisor who has returned to Breitbart News have apparently been invited.
Arreguín has called on UC Berkeley to cancel Yiannopoulos’ appearance although he said Monday he did not expect that to happen.