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People's Park, Revisited

The University of Calif. at Berkeley wants to cut trees and clear brush in People's Park to dissuade drug activity.

Remember People’s Park in Berkeley, Calif., that parcel of land just off Telegraph Ave. near the University of Calif. Berkeley? It was land the university cleared of residents via eminent domain in 1967, but by December 1968 it was a languishing, littered field that the university lacked redevelopment funds for. Some of the local merchants, students and citizens decided it was perfect for a park and on Sunday April 20, 1969 came to plant flora and use equipment provided by local landscape architect Jon Read. Some set up playground equipment. Dubbed "People's Park," the university was caught off guard. While the university chancellor, Heyns, took a compromising tone, Gov. Ronald Reagan viewed it as commandeering of university property by leftists and ordered the law to step in. Highway Patrolmen and Berkeley police officers took back People’s Park at dawn on May 15, 1969, erecting an 8’ tall perimeter chain-link wire fence.

That same day students jammed Sproul Plaza to protest and soon moved to the park where some tried to tear down the fence and tear gas was fired. It escalated from there. Nearly 800 officers were brought in from surround areas with full riot gear and armed with shotguns firing buckshot. James Rector was killed and Alan Blanchard blinded by the buckshot, though neither were protestors. Well over 100 people were treated for injuries at local hospitals. Reagan then declared a state of emergency and sent in 2,700 National Guard troops. For two weeks streets were barricaded by barbed wire and freedom of assembly was denied. A Sproul Plaza gathering had gas dropped on them from helicopters.

On May 30, 1969, 30,000 Berkeley citizens under the authority of a city permit marched without incident past barricaded People’s Park to protest.

Today: Trees and Hypodermics
There is plenty more park history, of course, but today, the 2.8 acres of People’s Park is co-managed by the university and by various community groups. Irene Hegarty, director of the UC Berkeley Office of Community Relations, told the Berkeley Daily Planet in July that a thousand hypodermic needles were found in People's Park during the last eight months. Hegarty toured the park along with Kate Bolton, assistant landscape architect, and Phil Cody, a UC Berkeley arborist. U.C. Berkeley University officials are proposing cutting down trees and clearing undergrowth to make the park less inviting to drug activity.

In the 2003 Canopy Agreement, the university agreed to work with the People's Park Community Advisory Board members on such matters. Some board members like the patches of wilderness in the park and don't believe cutting down trees will check the drug activity. Berkeley naturalist Terri Compost expressed concern about the fruit trees and the oaks.

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December 6, 2019, 12:37 pm PDT

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