University Reclaims People's Park

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UC Berkeley retook full control of People's Park last week by terminating a contract that had given the management of park maintenance and programs to the city of Berkeley, raising worries among community members that the decision might undermine local input to the fiercely-defended lot.

Vice Chancellor Horace Mitchell, who manages business and administrative services, said the university made the move July 1 to save money and concentrate on academics.

"It was not appropriate for the university to spend money on youth programs that ought to be funded by the city," Mitchell said. "Let's go back to thinking of (the park) as essentially passive open space like Memorial Glade."

After the summer, no programs are planned at the park unless the city allocates funds, according to city officials, despite a letter from a community advisory board to the university recommending such programs be continued. No other major changes to the park are planned by the university.

Mitchell said the decision was a reaction to studies showing that students did not use the park, which is university-owned and has had an intensely controversial history since it was built by city residents in 1969.

The $197,000 contract allowed the city to employ three workers to clean the bathroom every two hours, pick up litter and assist with landscaping, according to Fred Medrano, the city's health and human services director. The contract also included funding for children's activities and programs for students such as basketball tournaments, he said.

The university's Physical Plant department will take over maintenance of the park but will "take advice" from a community advisory board, according to Mitchell. He said the university is willing to look into city proposals to buy the park but will not go back to contracting with the city.

"We've had a lot of discussions with city staff," Mitchell said. "This is the decision we've made and this is one we're going to stick to."

Councilmember Dona Spring said the university's move should be seen in the context of community outrage over the university's Underhill Area Plan and proposals for tall light fixtures at Memorial Stadium.

"The university is getting more and more arrogant and antagonistic to the community," she said. "We have to struggle again so UC Berkeley will get the message that the community is united."

As recently as 1991, when demonstrations against building volleyball courts on People's Park turned into riots, the park has been the center of battles between Berkeley residents and the university.

Spring, who attended a community meeting at the park Tuesday in response to the university's decision, said community members and UC Berkeley alumni should raise money to buy the park.

Other activists at the meeting, saying that the management change took away a "democratic forum," announced they would organize a "Bulldozer Alert" to notify community members if the university tries to change the park.

"We were supposed to be moving in a different direction," said Lisa Stephens, a member of the city's Parks and Recreation Commission. "I am sick and tired of this. I don't want another riot. I want to get the park out of the university's hands once and for all."

Stephens, claiming the contract termination illustrates the university's "lack of understanding" of the community, said the university's decision came without any notice to the advisory board.

Councilmember Kriss Worthington, who supports the idea of buying the park from the university, said he was upset that the city council was not informed of the university's decision, but said the council can still take action.

"We can attempt to renegotiate an extension of the contract," he said. "We want to build on the kind of recreational programs (that were offered at the park). It would save us a lot of the turmoil and controversy (to buy the park)."

Although the city bought a larger park in West Berkeley from the university last year for $2 million, others, including Councilmember Polly Armstrong, feel that buying the park is not necessary.

"It is less important to me who owns it than that it is kept clean and safe and that it is usable open space for students," she said. "Both the city and the university want that."


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