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UC Berkeley halts construction of new student housing at People's Park after protests

The university has said that it wants to build apartment-style student housing on the site. Protesters consider the park to be a vital community gathering space.

University of California, Berkeley officials said Wednesday afternoon that they are pausing work on construction of new student housing after clashes earlier in the day between police and protesters at People’s Park. 

A group of protesters demonstrating against the university’s decision to build student housing on the site, which is owned by the school, broke through a recently erected fence around the park and faced off with officers as a construction crew started work on the project.

The park was cleared overnight Tuesday and the fencing erected after an Alameda County Superior Court judge ruled days earlier that the university could move forward with its housing plan despite local groups suing to stop it.

Dan Mogulof, UC Berkeley's assistant vice chancellor, said in a statement that the decision to halt the work was made “due to the destruction of construction materials, unlawful protest activity, and violence on the part of some protesters.”

Image: protesters
Protesters take down a part of the fence that the University of California, Berkeley erected around historic People's Park, so a construction crew could begin work on a long-planned student housing project, in Berkeley, Calif., on Aug. 3, 2022.Michael Liedtke / AP

He said multiple people were arrested, but said no additional details would be provided until Thursday.

“All construction personnel were withdrawn out of concern for their safety,” Mogulof said. “The campus will, in the days ahead, assess the situation in order to determine how best to proceed with construction of this urgently needed student housing project.”

UC Berkeley wants to build apartment-style housing for 1,100 students on the site in response to low housing supply and high market prices in the city, according to the university’s website. The project was announced in 2017.

Protesters consider the park, which is located about three blocks from campus, to be a vital gathering space for members of the community including homeless people.

An online fundraiser by the the People’s Park Historic District Advocacy Group opposing the construction has raised more than $14,000.

Image:
A police battalion from The University of California, Berkeley march away from People's Park after work was halted for safety reasons in Berkeley, Calif., on Aug. 3, 2022.Michael Liedtke / AP

UC Berkeley student Sam Nelson, 21, said she believes the housing will be expensive and will benefit the university, not students. She said the protest was also about protecting trees at the park, some of which were cut down.

Nelson, who is a member of Defend People’s Park, an organization that aims to protect the park, said she started protesting around midnight when the university began erecting construction lighting and fences.

“Some folks started coming out to protest and that’s when police got involved,” she said.

She added that police were using excessive force on protestors. 

UC Berkeley police did not immediately respond to a request for comment from NBC News, but in a statement to the Associated Press said that protesters threw rocks, bottles, and glass at crews working at the park, which is considered aggravated assault. The department didn’t say if anyone was arrested.

The park has been a longstanding point of contention between UC Berkeley and protesters.

In 1969, community organizers turned the site, which the state and university had seized under eminent domain, into the People’s Park. The university erected a fence around the park, and protesters tried to reclaim it, resulting in police fatally shooting one man and wounding dozens of others.

The May 15, 1969, uprising, known as “Bloody Thursday,” triggered more protests and then-California Gov. Ronald Reagan summoned the National Guard to occupy Berkeley.