Protest begins at People’s Park after Cal blocks off site

Supriya Yelimeli, Nico Savidge and Iris Kwok

People are gathering at a planned rally after UC Berkeley began installing shipping containers to block off People’s Park early Thursday morning. Credit: Nico Savidge

Update, 1 p.m. Activists faced off with police at barricades set up on the blocks around People’s Park on Thursday, as they protested UC Berkeley’s move to block the open space with stacked shipping containers overnight.

Today’s developments are UC Berkeley’s latest attempt to close Berkeley’s historic People’s Park to build a 1,100-bed student housing project there. Cal is barred from starting construction at the park by an ongoing lawsuit in the state Supreme Court but is allowed to erect fencing.

There had been no arrests or uses of force by the large police presence at the demonstration as of 1 p.m., according to a UC Berkeley spokesperson.

More than 100 people gathered for the protest on Telegraph Avenue late Thursday morning, where they chanted and gave speeches vowing to continue their efforts to block the university’s plan to build student housing at the park. Dozens of law enforcement officers in body armor and helmets stood opposite them behind a metal barricade, while behind them workers in orange vests and hard hats continued building the shipping container wall.

“This is just the beginning,” activist Andrea Prichett told the crowd, which rallied next to a mural commemorating the history of demonstrations at the park. “We have to stay strong — this is going to be a long struggle.”

Several smaller groups of protesters split off from the demonstration and headed to some of the barricades police have set up barring all but residents from the blocks that surround the park. A handful of people dismantled a barricade along Regent Street at one point before moving on.

Meanwhile, inside the police perimeter, shipping containers surrounded the park on three sides by Thursday afternoon, and crews worked to move the barricades into place.

Update, Noon  A rally calling for opponents of UC Berkeley’s plan to build housing at People’s Park and protesting its closure is underway, with about 50 in attendance as a large contingent of law enforcement officers stand close by.

People were busy giving speeches and making posters.

On Thursday morning, Berkeley City College student Coco Rosos, sprawled out on a sidewalk on Telegraph Avenue and Dwight Way, said, “Even if they take away the park, the community is still going to last.”

Rosos, 21, who attended Berkeley public schools, described the park as a safe haven free from judgment. “They can’t get rid of the people — they still have to go somewhere.” 

Robert Gilmore, 26, who lives in Berkeley’s Northside neighborhood, said he opposes the university’s plans to turn the park into housing because the space encapsulates the essence of the Southside neighborhood. 

Gilmore was fond of the park’s garden, which he said was removed by workers early this morning, as it was one of his favorite places in Berkeley to watch bees, write and chat with park residents. But not all the interactions he’s had with people in the park have been positive, he said. He said he once was approached by an unhoused person who “threatened to sic his dogs on him,” but he still believes the park should be kept a free space.

“I think [the university’s] concern is not necessarily the well-being of the people living in the park,” Gilmore said. “It’s sanitizing this community, making it so that prospective students and other, you know, businesses or things making it more sanitized and safe.”

Protesters gather for rally

Update, 11 a.m. Protesters began gathering on Telegraph Avenue late Thursday morning ahead of a planned demonstration against UC Berkeley’s move to block off People’s Park.

Demonstrators called for people to assemble at Haste Street and Telegraph Avenue at 11 a.m. Dozens were gathered in front of a metal police barricade at the intersection ahead of the start of the protest.

There was a large law enforcement presence in the area, with California Highway Patrol officers in riot gear blocking off a perimeter of several blocks around the park. Several private security guards also lined Telegraph Avenue. 

Workers at the park, meanwhile, continued the project they began overnight to build a barrier made of stacked shipping containers along its perimeter.

Law enforcement officers are lined up around the perimeter of People’s Park. Credit: Nico Savidge

Shipping containers form barrier around park

Update, 8 a.m. Construction crews continued working to block off People’s Park with a row of shipping containers as the sun rose Thursday morning, after law enforcement officers in riot gear cleared opponents of a planned student housing development from the area overnight.

A large presence of California Highway Patrol, University of California police and private security guards are surrounding the park, as workers use forklifts to double-stack the metal shipping containers along its perimeter and others dismantle structures within the public space. A UC Berkeley spokesperson said work to complete the barrier of around 150 containers could be completed by Saturday.

The move is the university’s latest attempt to close the historic park and build a 1,100-bed student housing project. The university is currently barred from starting construction at the park by an ongoing lawsuit in the state Supreme Court but is allowed to erect fencing.

The university says it also intends to build supportive housing at the park for formerly homeless residents, but those plans are in limbo after the affordable housing developer, Resources for Community Development, walked away from the contract in May.

No opponents of the development remain inside the park, but activists have planned a demonstration near the site for 11 a.m. Thursday.

Meanwhile, portions of Dwight Way, Haste Street, Channing Way, and Bowditch Street near the park are closed to traffic.

Workers use forklifts to place rows of shipping containers around the perimeter of People’s Park on Thursday morning. Credit: Zac Farber

Police arrested seven people during the push to clear the park, which began just before midnight and continued through the early morning hours as crews felled trees and began building the perimeter.

Those arrested face misdemeanor allegations of trespassing, with two also being charged with failure to disperse, according to UC Berkeley spokesman Dan Mogulof, who said they were booked at the North County Jail in Oakland and released. Several other protesters who had sought to occupy the park agreed to leave voluntarily.

Mogulof declined to say how many law enforcement officers were present at the park, but said they included police from around the University of California and California State University systems, as well as California Highway Patrol, Alameda County Sheriff and San Francisco County Sheriff.

Tree-sitters agree to leave the park

Update, 4 a.m. The last remaining occupants of the park have left the treehouse voluntarily on condition that they won’t be arrested.

Alameda County Sheriff’s Office deputies escorted three tree-sitters out of the park after they agreed to the conditions.

Immediately after, crews began placing shipping containers around the perimeter of the park, with at least 12 flatbed trucks hauling shipping containers on Dwight Way.

A standoff between law enforcement and protesters at Haste and Telegraph avenues. Credit: Ximena Natera, Berkeleyside/CatchLight
Shortly after 4 a.m., construction crews started placing stacks of shipping containers around the park. Credit: Ximena Natera, Berkeleyside/CatchLight

At least six people were arrested and some were taken to Santa Rita Jail on suspicion of disobeying a dispersal order, according to activists, and at least one person has been cited and released early Thursday morning.

Protesters clash with law enforcement

Protester Enrique Marisol is arrested early Thursday morning. Credit: Ximena Natera, Berkeleyside/CatchLight

Update, 3 a.m. Protesters took down barricades blocking access into the park at Telegraph Avenue and Haste Street, and about 30 law enforcement officers are blocking them from entering.

Inside the park, tree cutting work is ongoing. Trees have been felled on the sidewalk around Bowditch Street, and a bulldozer is removing vegetation at the park.

Alameda County sheriff’s officials are telling tree occupants that they can be escorted out of the park without arrest if they come down voluntarily.

Alameda County sheriff’s officers outside the People’s Park community kitchen, where three activists were barricaded. Credit: Ximena Natera, Berkeleyside/CatchLight

Trucks and bulldozers move toward park

Update, 2 a.m. Arborists, construction workers with a bulldozer, private security and multiple large shipment trucks are at the park.

At least three people are still occupying the treehouse, which is now disconnected from the community kitchen. Nicholas Alexander, a treehouse occupier who built the kitchen, said he’s doing OK but is sad to see crews cut down the trees around the park.

Multiple people have been arrested, and at least one person said they were arrested on suspicion of disobeying the dispersal order.

About 100 police officers are at the park, with the majority centered around the treehouse. They’ve continued to push back the perimeter where people are allowed to observe and protest.

A group of about 50 protesters are gathered outside the barricade on Telegraph Avenue and Haste Street, rallying and chanting, “Whose park? People’s Park!”

Protesters ordered to leave the park

Update, 1:30 a.m. Law enforcement officers have ordered those gathered at People’s Park to leave or face arrest and possible use of force.

University police, California Highway Patrol officers and Alameda County Sheriff’s Office deputies were on the scene. There were approximately 100 law enforcement personnel at the park shortly before 1:30 a.m.

UC spokesperson Dan Mogulof said there have been multiple arrests so far. He said detailed information about the arrests is currently unavailable.

UC Berkeley sends police into People’s Park

Original story: Around 50 to 100 activists are occupying People’s Park in resistance after UC Berkeley police entered the park late Wednesday night.

Police currently outnumber protesters, with about 50 law enforcement officials belonging to UC police. Shortly before midnight, officers approached the treehouse at the park and began using a chainsaw to dismantle its connection to a community kitchen structure. Occupants remain in the tree house.

Law enforcement has arranged barricades at intersections around the perimeter of the park, including Dwight Way at Telegraph Avenue and at Benvenue Avenue, and Haste Street at College Avenue. The California Highway Patrol and Alameda County sheriff’s deputies are on scene.

At about 1 a.m., university spokesperson Dan Mogulof published a press release confirming plans to create a fence with double-stacked shipping containers over the next “3-4 days.” Mogulof is on the scene at the park.

The plans mean streets around the park will be closed to traffic. Bowditch Street, Channing Way, Haste Street and Dwight Way will be closed around the perimeter of the park. Cars on Dwight Way were towed early Thursday morning, though no notices were posted prior.

UC workers are telling people encamped in the park that they need to leave, offering storage and a ride to the winter drop-in shelter. At least one person said they would voluntarily leave, and another refused. There are about 10 tents throughout the area.

Several activists have been occupying the park since Monday night, when they held a vigil and began preparing for the university’s action. Their text-based community alert system notified people around 11:30 p.m. that law enforcement was entering the park.

The move is the university’s latest attempt to close the historic park and build a 1,100-bed student housing project. The university is currently barred from starting construction at the park by an ongoing lawsuit in the state Supreme Court but is allowed to erect fencing.

University spokesperson Dan Mogulof declined to comment on any university action or law enforcement presence at the park this week, saying, “We are not in the business of commenting on every new round of speculation about the site.”

People’s Park activists got word of the university’s plans to enter the park in December and began preparing for possible resistance over the last month.

Preparation ramped up this week after multiple indications that the university would begin fencing off the park, possibly with shipping containers and barbed wire.

Councilmember Rigel Robinson, who oversees the Southside neighborhood, said in a statement late Wednesday evening that he supports student housing construction at the park, but protesters’ rights should be protected.

“I have communicated to campus leadership at every opportunity my ardent opposition to use of excessive force against nonviolent protesters,” he wrote. “This project must represent a step forward for People’s Park and for Berkeley, not a repeat of the state violence that has shaped our history. Our residents’ First Amendment rights must be protected.”

This is a developing story. Check back for updates.

Alex N. Gecan and Zac Farber contributed reporting to this story.

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2024-01-04 22:05:00 , Berkeleyside

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