UC-Owned People's Park Still for the People

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After two years under university control, which many said would be the beginning of the end, People's Park remains.

Originally bought by the UC Board of Regents for over $1 million in the late 1960s, the land was intended for athletic fields and a parking lot until a long-range plan for student housing could be realized.

After its tumultuous founding during the Berkeley riots of 1969, the city and UC Berkeley worked together to manage the park.

In July 2000, a contract between the two managing parties expired, and the university chose not to renew the contract.

Vice Chancellor Horace Mitchell, who manages business and administrative services, told The Daily Californian in 2000 the university made the decision to save money on maintenance and program funding paid to the city.

"The university kicked the city out of a cooperative working environment," says Councilmember Kriss Worthington. "They just didn't want us there."

After UC Berkeley took control of the park, many of the existing youth and special event programs lost funding.

But university officials say People's Park continues to be a resource for community members of all ages with the creation of new events and programs, such as a basketball tournament for children held last summer.

"We would like to see UC students using the park, and we're aiming our programs that way," says People's Park site coordinator Devin Woolridge.

Although some Berkeley residents fear the university will build over the park, either with student housing or a parking lot, Woolridge says such rumors are unfounded.

"People's Park will remain an open space," he says.

Worthington says he hopes the park can be used for more activities than the ones created by university officials.

"We should make it a fully utilized park for people of all areas," Worthington says. "Let's make it a park for the entire community."

Cooperation between the city and the university would have been the best arrangement for the park, he says, adding that there have been no major improvements since UC took full control of the park.

"It's important that they not neglect the park-make it more inviting for people," Worthington says. "Getting rid of the city and then not doing anything positive with the park is not a good strategy."

UC Berkeley's strategy has been to leave the park as an "open space," allowing people to use the area freely during the day, and planning and sponsoring special events, Woolridge says.

Any major decisions involving the park must first be run through the People's Park Community Advisory Board, a university-appointed committee of 10 community members. Members are chosen on an application basis by Mitchell.

Occasional cleanings by UC employees and frequent patrollings of the park by both UC and Berkeley police help keep the park groomed and safe, says UC police Capt. Bill Cooper. Park crime rates have stayed level since 2000.

During cleanings, UC physical plant department workers clear the park of litter and belongings. The department keeps the articles deemed as "belongings" for a few weeks to be claimed by their owners.

Despite the common conception of the park as a place for the homeless, Cooper says People's Park has a strict policy-no one is allowed in the park between 10 p.m. and 6 .am.

"People don't stay there overnight," Cooper says. "The police have been paying more attention to that area over the past five or six years, trying to prevent problems and reduce crime."

But longtime People's Park inhabitant Lisa Gomez says the park continues to house overnight guests.

"I don't stay there, but some people do," Gomez says. "It's the older gang that does-the ones who have been around awhile."

Richard Smiley, who also spends time at the park, says people come to Berkeley because they know about the "park that belongs to the people."

"Travelers count on this place being here," he says. "You don't have to live here or anything because it is the people's park. Historically, this is the place you look for to sit down and relax. It's the only one."

Smiley adds it would not be possible for the university to build over the park because there are too many people that support it.

Other supporters of People's Park agreed with Smiley.

"Most people don't stay here because they don't want tickets," says a frequent visitor of the park, who asked to be called Tim. "But if they try to turn the park into something (else), there'll be a riot."


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