UC Berkeley announced firm plans last week to build student housing at People’s Park, but it is also intends to proceed quickly on developing nine other sites around the city with the goal of adding 7,500 beds in the next 10 years.
While the university had previously announced that it was exploring the other sites, Chancellor Carol Christ said for the first time on Thursday that all of the sites identified in a 2017 study would be turned into housing.
“We have an urgent, urgent need to expand our housing so I’ve committed to doubling our housing capacity in 10 years,” Christ said during an interview at her office in California Hall. “It’s a crisis of such proportion that if we do not address it, it will ultimately compromise the excellence of the campus because it will be harder for us to recruit graduate students and undergraduates to solve the housing problem.”
UC Berkeley currently houses the smallest percentage of students in the UC system. Only 22% of undergraduates, and 9% of graduates, get university housing. The average across the system is 38.1% for undergraduates and 19.6% for graduate students.
UC Berkeley will seek one company to develop housing on 9 sites
UC Berkeley plans to select a single developer to develop the other nine sites, said Christ. The university will issue a Request for Proposal (RFP) in the next month to solicit bids.
The process will not be easy, said Christ, as each site has strengths and limitations that will need to be addressed. For example, while the Oxford tract site could hold as many as 3,000 students, the greenhouses, gardens and fields on the site are integral to academics. A study will have to be done to reconcile those competing needs, she said. In addition, the university will have to revise its 2020 Long Range Development Plan as some of the sites are not currently designated for housing. There will probably be legal challenges as well.
“There are no simple sites,” she said.
Plans for People’s Park
Thursday’s interview coincided with the release of schematics for constructing housing for as many as 1,000 students and 100 homeless individuals at People’s Park. Ever since the university announced plans for the park, people have been waiting to see what the proposed development might look like. The schematics, drawn up by the university’s design review group are only conceptual at this point.
The proposed plan would put a walkway commemorating the turbulent history of People’s Park on the east side of the park along Bowditch Way. The student housing, which might be apartment-like suites for second-, third- and fourth-year students, would go immediately west of this. Some of the buildings would be about five stories high, but there would be a block of apartments along Haste that are higher.
The plan also calls for the construction of supportive housing for as many as 100 homeless people at the southwestern edge of the park. There would be a green space of a little less than an acre at the park’s western edge, close to Telegraph Avenue.
The university plans to forge a public-private partnership to develop all the sites, as it has done in the past. It will seek out a nonprofit developer with experience amassing funds for low-income housing for the homeless portion of the development. Community input will be factored into the plans, too.
Christ said that Cal had announced plans to build on People’s Park before announcing its intention to build on the other sites because of the complexity of the project.
“People’s Park has a different dynamic than the other sites,” she said. “People’s Park is not going to be out front. It just has a different process because of the complexity of the site.”The proposal has already gotten pushback, although there are also many Berkeley residents who applaud the idea.
On Sunday, a group of about 30 people gathered at People’s Park to discuss ways to oppose the university’s plans. Many of them were battle-hardened veterans in the 50-year fight between the university and People’s Park, including Michael Delacour, who was one of the park’s founders in 1969. Michael Diehl, a community organizer for BOSS who has spent more than 30 years around People’s Park, was there, as were organizers from Food Not Bombs, Berkeley Community Media and other groups. There were two current UC Berkeley students as well.
A short time after the meeting, posters went up around the park declaring “Prepare now for the People’s Park Riots of 2018.”
Christ rejected the idea that the 2.8-acre park, built in the late 1960s and 70s, had to remain the same to reflect the ideals that brought it to fruition. She pointed to the high level of crime in the park, including an incident last year when a park dweller allegedly fed meth to a 2-year-old child playing in the park.
“The situation in the park has deteriorated significantly and it poses a real safety risk,” she said.
Those who gathered on Sunday would disagree. Many of them said they had found community at the park, had raised their children there and had lifelong friends because of the experience. They praised the space as one free from corporate interference where people can speak their minds freely.
Tom Dalzell, who is writing a history of the 1969 events surrounding the park — when Alameda County Sheriff’s deputies fired buckshot, killing one bystander, James Rector, and injuring others — said nothing should be built on the park because it would cover up the history.
Christ said building supportive housing for 100 homeless people would be a reflection of the values of People’s Park more than just leaving it as it is. The juxtaposition of wealth and extreme poverty is no longer limited to places like the streets of India. It is visible here in Berkeley, too, she said.
“You can’t walk down to BART without seeing people really miserable in not having basic human needs, food and shelter,” she said. “I think the university needs to be a partner with the city in addressing the situation, addressing the problems of homelessness and alleviating the kinds of challenges the homeless face. I think that’s a community need that’s very much in the spirit of People’s Park.”
UC Berkeley pays for a social worker who focuses on People’s Park. Sam Davis, an emeritus professor of architecture who focuses on homelessness and building homeless housing, is serving as Christ’s advisor for People’s Park and other projects.
In addition to adding 7,500 beds in the next 10 years, UC also plans to continue partnering with other developers to lease entire complexes that have been, or will be, built in Berkeley, she said.
Pressure to increase enrollment continues
One reason for the housing crisis is because UC Berkeley’s enrollment keeps increasing. In the fall of 2017, undergraduate enrollment at Cal surpassed 30,000 students for the first time. The total number of grads and undergrads reached 41,910, a 15% increase from five years earlier when there were 35,899 students.
UC Berkeley has no control over its enrollment, said Dan Mogulof, a university spokesman. That decision is made by the legislature and the UC Board of Regents, he said. In 2015, UC agreed to boost the number of students in the system by 10,000 in exchange for a $25 million bump in state funding. The demand for education is greater than the supply, as evidenced by the fact that 108,000 students applied to Cal last year, said Mogulof.
“I see enrollment pressure at all of the UC campuses,” said Christ. “The legislature has made very clear that they want more undergraduate enrollment capacity at UC. There doesn’t seem to be any appetite for building new campuses….The [current] campuses are going to need to continue to grow.”
A Berkeley neighborhood group, Save Berkeley’s Neighborhoods, filed a lawsuit in late April alleging that Cal increased its student population five times more than is set out in its 2020 Long-Range Plan, which has exacerbated the housing crisis, increased homelessness, and put a strain on city emergency services. The group wants UC Berkeley to do an environmental review of the impacts of adding 6,500 more students than expected.
Mogulof said the university’s increased enrollment is only a minor factor in the region’s housing crisis.
“We are not sure that this group understands what CEQA requires and doesn’t require,” Mogulof said in a statement. “The University is confident that it is in compliance with the California Environmental Quality Act and we intend to assert that position in court.”
The 9 other sites to be developed for housing
Upper Hearst Parking Structure
The Goldman School of Public Policy has plans in the work to transform a parking lot into a complex of academic buildings, study spaces, parking and housing for about 130 people.
The Oxford Tract
Christ said this parcel will be more controversial to develop than People’s Park because of the fields, gardens and greenhouses used by UC Berkeley faculty and students. Those facilities will have to be relocated, probably to the northern part of the area, to make room for 1,000-3,000 student units.
This is currently a tennis court on top of parking. While it could be developed fairly easily, the university will have to deal with the loss of parking, said Christ.
The preliminary plans call to increase the density of this dorm complex, which stretches from Durant Avenue to Channing Way, Telegraph Avenue to Dana Street.
Bancroft and Oxford
University public affairs has an office here in a one-story building. The city of Berkeley has long wanted Cal to build more densely on Bancroft and lodged an objection when the Spieker Aquatics Center was built. This parcel could house 100-120 apartments.
The complex right over Berkeley’s northern border currently houses graduate students and their families in apartments. The university may want to move some of the projects from the Oxford Tract here.
This lot, near the top of Dwight Way at Fernwald Road, served as student housing for 65 years until it was demolished. The Smyth House, a historical landmark built in the 19th century, still stands.
Richmond Field Station
The university said this spot could have apartments for grad students and their families. It is not currently classified as an area intended for housing, so the Long-Range Plan would have to be changed.
The Mike’s Bike lot at University Avenue and Oxford Way
UC Berkeley had planned in 2016 to build a 200-room, 10-story hotel on the lot but changed direction as the housing shortage accelerated. This lot has been included since the 2017 taskforce list of potential sites for housing was released.