PP

Noticing what he was missing, a nice person at People's Park offered to sell Brook Schaaf a heart - not her own heart, mind you - but one she had stolen from someone else. Respond to him at [email protected]





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All right. Back from sex-break, feeling good. Not that I need to take my mind out of the gutter yet - today's topic is People's Park. I once thought of People's Park as some important part of Berkeley's history, worth keeping regardless of the fact that few people actually use it or enjoy its presence. After four years as a UC Berkeley student, I have come around in my thinking. People's Park should not be kept as it is.

Right now the space is dirty, crime-ridden and inhospitable, in short, more wretched than Kip's on a Thursday night. I support recreating the park as student housing, open space and a basketball court. People's Park is our own physical legacy from the end of the 1960s, a decade when a lot of crazy things went down. The Free Speech Movement probably marked the height of the decade: peaceful, focused, efficacious, successful. From there everything seems to have gone downhill. Vietnam War protests were numerous, violent, chaotic, ineffective. By the end of the decade, many activists apparently felt they were unable to change society or even the course of the war. People's Park was conceived in this frustration and raised in its violent expression.

On April 20, 1969, fearful the university would poop out yet another ugly construction, hundreds of people descended onto the lot. They cleared the area of trash, planted trees, laid sod and distributed food. The university was upset to lose its land; ever since it has been a fight over the de jure university title and the de facto activist (lately homeless) title. The city came to represent the side of the activists.

Soon after the initial events, notice for clearance was posted. The issue came to a head for the first time on May 15 in a major street riot. Thousands of protesters were tear gassed. One man was killed. Another man was blinded. Many more protests and arrests were to follow, though this day stands out as the worst. The ensuing history is the recurring story of temporary peace followed by university attempts to reclaim the area followed by civil unrest followed by the city offering to lease the park. According to Irene Hegarty, UC Berkeley's director of community relations, People's Park has been as it is now since around 1991, when town and gown reached the latest lease agreement. The activists' creation has since become recognizable as its own waste product.

I don't mean to say the people involved were malicious. Times must have been very different then. In many regards I think I understand the 1960s no better than I do the revolutions of 1848 and 1849. The present, however, I do have a feel for. Today People's Park is a wasteful eyesore, totally disrespectful to the area surrounding it. Furthermore, the university gets to foot the bill. According to Hegarty, the university pays some $200,000 per year in addition to the costs of administrative manpower, police and capital improvements (possibly another $200,000) to keep the area maintained.

Many people disagree with me: some very strongly, others more passively. Many people seem to have a vague feeling that the park belongs in Berkeley, as one of the counterculture kicks. Some people note it is a landmark. Please be aware, however, that People's Park is neither a state nor a federal landmark. It does not head UNESCO's World Heritage List. People's Park was recognized as a landmark by the Berkeley Landmark Planning Commission in 1984 - a sort of paper "fuck you" from the town to the gown. True, People's Park does have an aesthetic value as a sort of living museum to social failure, but is it worth the high opportunity cost to the entire city, students and university in particular?

It seems to me that most students have only a passing interest in the park if they aren't downright offended by it. (Many students I spoke to were quick to break out with swear words.) The ASUC has scheduled a referendum for this spring to see what students think. I am very curious as to the results. It seems that many nonstudent residents are also tired of the land as it currently exists; they would like to see it become a proper park.

I am inclined toward mixed use with student housing, but fair enough. Regardless of a new public opinion poll, however, the situation probably will not change for years because of a small group of violent activists. These people are hypocrites. Right here and now I would bet the healthy sum of my federal loans that at least one significant supporter of People's Park owns private property he or she would not like to lose to a group of intransigent transients. Go to the park's Web page and notice that it is "all rights reserved."

These people bully the university with the help of their irresponsible cohorts on the Berkeley City Council, who are presumptive enough to dictate the park's character without being decent enough to buy it.

People's Park has been effectively offered to the city, but the city has never come up with the money to buy it. Should this miracle ever come to pass, may I modestly suggest that past maintenance be paid in full along with the rest of the parcel price?

I believe keeping the insalubrious strip on life support is a reflection of Berkeley's fear of distancing itself from the heyday 1960s, a time when it achieved international prominence. This fear of change is counterproductive in any city and downright ironic here. People's Park has a history, to be sure. This should be commemorated in a very nice plaque next to the new student housing building overlooking the healthy green.

Once a woman named Wendy Schlesinger wrote a diary entry on her experience planning for the park. One of her friends got her interested by asking a question: "You know that crummy, vacant lot you walk past every morning on your way down to the avenue?"

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