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UC Berkeley clears, fences off People’s Park, but protesters return

BERKELEY — People’s Park was fenced in early Wednesday — officially marking the start of UC Berkeley’s construction of a $312 million student housing project on the historic property.

But within hours, protesters had pried open several sections of the fence and clashed with police, halting tree-cutters who were beginning to clear a section of the three-acre park.

By 1 p.m., more than 50 feet of the fence had been torn down and hundreds of police and security guards had completely retreated from the park.

Bryce Smith, a biology and business major at UC Berkeley, was among dozens of demonstrators who bypassed the fence and barricades. They said they are trying to preserve what’s left of the park, after construction crews had already cut down a majority of the towering trees.

“I’m going to stay here until whatever happens, happens,” Smith said, sitting atop a ramshackle building still standing at the center of the park. “I’m just not willing to let this go away.”

In the wee hours of Wednesday, the drone of heavy-duty drills echoed across the park as 8-foot metal fencing was erected and bolted into the concrete sidewalks around the perimeter of the park, four blocks south of UC’s campus.

About two dozen protesters and a handful of unhoused people were scattered around the park when activity began. They were quickly surrounded by lines of uniformed University of California police department officers standing shoulder to shoulder — decked out in full riot gear.

As more protesters arrived at People’s Park, skirmishes broke out intermittently throughout the morning, and several people were hit with batons while police attempted to clear crowds away from the site.

The fencing was the first step in UC Berkeley’s plan to construct housing for 1,100 university students and 125 unhoused residents within two 12- and six-story dorm buildings, after an Alameda County Superior Court judge effectively lifted a stay preventing any physical changes to People’s Park.

Within an hour after midnight, each of the four streets bounding the 2.8-acre park were barricaded and cleared of any lingering cars, in an attempt to keep non-residents away from the area as dozens of construction workers and private security guards on site effectively closed down the park.

Lisa Teague, a member of the People’s Park Council, said the operation unfolded just as she feared: slow, methodical and with “lots of backup.”

“It’s almost worse because it’s so calculated,” Teague said, adding that the timing was “perfect” in between the completion of summer classes and the start of the fall semester, before a majority of students would return to Berkeley. “They knew the timeline, so they had a chance to refine their tactics. They didn’t want a shitstorm.”

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