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News + PoliticsAre the People's Park barricades even legal?

Are the People’s Park barricades even legal?

The operation has already cost $15.1 million.


On February 5, I submitted the following Public Records Act Request to the Berkeley City Attorney:

The University of California has encircled People’s Park with a two-story-high wall of shipping containers. Section 23.304.080 of the Berkeley Municipal Code, entitled “Fences,” states that an AUP (Administrative Use Permit) is required for fences that are “More than 6 ft. in height and on lot line or within required lot line setbacks for main building” in all districts except ES-R. 

I ask to see documentation whereby the City authorized UC to encircle People’s Park with a fence that is more than six feet high.

The University has placed razor wire on top of the shipping containers that encircle People’s Park. Section 23.304.080 (C)(1) of the Berkeley Municipal Code, entitled “Fences,” states: “A fence in a Residential District may not contain strands of barbed or razor wire, sharp or jagged glass, sharp or jagged metal components (e.g., razor-spikes), or similar materials. People’s Park is in a residential district. 

I also ask to see documentation whereby the City authorized UC to place razor wire on top of the shipping containers that encircle People’s Park. [Note: the razor wire is only on the containers on Haste.]

The shipping container fence/wall covers the sidewalk. I ask to see documentation whereby the City authorized the University to place a wall on a sidewalk in a residential district.

On February 29, I received this reply:

The City has identified documents which are responsive to your request. A partial production of those records can be found attached to this letter.

The City is in the process of compiling and reviewing additional documents and anticipates being able to produce additional responsive documents by March 21, 2024. If you have any questions concerning your request, please feel free to contact me at kperez@berkeleyca.gov.

Contrary to the city’s reply, I fail to see how the records it sent me on February 29 respond to my request. Those documents include:

—The “Indemnification Agreement” between UC and the city permits “authorizing the use of the public right of way (the ‘Subject Permit’) for the purpose of enclosing a future construction site known as the ‘People’s Park Housing Project’”

The expensive, and questionably legal, barricades. Wikimedia Commons photo by Sevgonlernassau

—Three copies of one job card issued by the city’s Public Works Engineering office regarding “electrical release to PGE,” and two “Sewer Lateral Certificates,” one for twenty years, the other for seven years

—The Engineering Permit Application for that job, which described the work as follows: “Undergrounding of existing overhead power and low voltage (phone, cable) wires on Haste and part of Bowditch; Tree removal/replacement/new trees in the ROW [Right of Way] on Haste, Bowditch, and Dwight; Street light removal and replacement/possible temporary lights during construction on Haste; Storm water connections”

—A January 3, 2024, email from David A. Lopez, the city’s chief building official/safety manager to City of Berkeley Senior Permit Specialist Mariafelisa Baber conveying the city manager’s approval of issuing one of two job cards—the one copied three times and another, which I didn’t receive.

None of these documents reference the provisions of the Berkeley Municipal Code cited in my PRA request having to do with the legal placement of fences and razor wire around People’s Park. 

Costs to the public incurred by UC’s deal with the City: $127,000

Of interest, however, were items in the Indemnification Agreement having to do with costs. As stated among the “Recitals:”

“The City desires to ensure that the placement of obstructions by the University shall not result in damage to City infrastructure and shall not result in exposure to litigation or liability for the City.” But costs incurred by the University of California also make the public liable.”

UC paid the city an initial amount of $126,000, “which is equal to the estimated sum of the lost parking revenues for Phases 1 and 2” of the project. The job card mentioned the loss of 44 parking spaces that would be covered by the shipping containers. The Indemnification Agreement goes on to say:

“Initially, the Subject Permit would result in lost parking revenues at 108 parking stalls, at the rate of $19,413.00 per week for ten (10) days, the expected duration of the first phase of work under the Subject Permit (‘Phase 1’). Upon the completion of Phase 1, 44 parking stalls will remain obstructed at a total rate of $8,189.00 per week for twelve (12) weeks (‘Phase 2’). If the University intends to extend the duration of either Phase 1 or Phase 2, the University shall compensate the City for additional lost parking revenues at the applicable rate.”

By my reckoning, those costs come to $29,119 for Phase 1 and $98,268 for Phase 2—a total of $127,387.

Other UC costs to close People’s Park: $15.9 million—and counting

And there’s more. On February 28, UCB put out a press release listing “preliminary costs related to its work in January to close People’s Park and secure the site for the anticipated construction of housing for students and unhoused people and a revitalized park space.” It notes a payment of $128,000 to the city of Berkeley “for various permits and associated parking spaces,” which tallies with the figure in the Indemnification Agreement. That’s just a fraction of the $16 million  that, the university reported, it has spent on this project since August 2022. 

A breakdown of those other costs was provided on February 28 by Los Angeles Times staff writer James Rainey. In response to a PRA request, UC said that it has already “spent $7.8 million to deploy its own forces to wall off and secure People’s Park.” That figure, Rainey wrote, includes $2.8 millon to build the 17-foot-high perimeter around the park, which includes the shipping containers (at a cost of $972,000), for gates, lighting, other equipment and supervision ($1.27 million) and for engineering and surveying ($515,000).” Plus “[a]n additional $3.7 million…to pay, house and feed the police and sheriff’s deputies who cleared and surrounded the park in early January,” nearly $1.5 million of which “went to pay overtime to officers” from the UC Police Department. “The $7.8 million tally also includes $1.16 million that UC spent to move homeless people from the park to a Quality Inn.”

The school has still to receive “bills from the California Highway Patrol, sheriff’s departments for Alameda and San Francisco Counties, and from nine other UC and Cal State University police departments.” 

UC Berkeley spokesman Kyle Gibson accompanied the response to the PRA request with a letter stating that, Rainey wrote, “explained…that the extraordinary operation, cloaked in secrecy, was designed to avoid the sort of conflict that had prevented the university from developing People’s Park for more than half a century.”

“Our highest priorities for closure,” wrote Gibson, “were safety, avoidance/deterrence of conflict, and the minimization of disruption for students and neighboring residents.”

Meanwhile, the legality of the shipping container “fence” and the razor wire remains questionable.

48 Hills welcomes comments in the form of letters to the editor, which you can submit here. We also invite you to join the conversation on our FacebookTwitter, and Instagram


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