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UC Berkeley can begin construction of $312 million housing development at historic People’s Park, judge rules

UC Berkeley’s proposal to develop housing at People’s Park dodged another bullet Friday — more than a half-century after a similar plan sparked a violent clash that established People’s Park as a hotbed of social dissent.

An Alameda County Superior Court judge issued a tentative ruling Friday evening that the university’s plans to build a $312 million housing project at People’s Park did not violate the California Environmental Quality Act.

Judge Frank Roesch effectively gave UC Berkeley the OK to begin constructing housing at the site for 1,100 university students and 125 homeless residents within two 12- and six-story dorm buildings — coming full circle since 1969, when the university’s initial desire to build housing on the 2.8-acre site culminated in thousands of protesters, a state of emergency and one death.

Russell Bates, a 75-year-old Vietnam vet who has found community at People’s Park since the 1970s, and Stark Mike, a 73-year-old who currently stays at the park at night, are ready to do whatever they can to help keep the space open and free.

“We’re ready for war,” Bates said in an interview at the park. “That’s what it’s going to take this time. They got to know that we’re serious about defending this.”

On Friday, attorneys for three separate cases seeking to stop the development — filed jointly last year by the Local 3299 union for UC service workers and community groups Make UC A Good Neighbor and Berkeley Citizens for a Better Plan — all presented their arguments in court.

The groups argued that environmental impact reports within UC’s long-range development plan, which, in part, lays out how the institution plans to accommodate its ever-growing student population over the next 15 years, were inadequate. They maintained the plans failed to account for how student enrollment growth will negatively impact the surrounding community, from increasing greenhouse gases to clogging already dangerous wildfire evacuation routes.

Additionally, their attorneys claimed that UC officials failed to consider more than a dozen other locations for the housing rather than the historic park, which was added to the National Register of Historic Places in June.

But until Judge Roesch submits a written order, expected early next week, construction cannot begin because of a stay issued by an appellate court earlier this month, intended to prevent any physical changes at the park until a decision was handed down.

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