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Fight over People's Park development in Berkeley continues

Battle over development at People's Park in Berkeley continues
Battle over development at People's Park in Berkeley continues 02:42

The fight over the development of People's Park in Berkeley rages on.  

Opponents of UC Berkeley's plan to build student and supportive housing on the site gathered on campus Monday for a first-of-a-kind forum. 

Park advocates said they're not against student or supportive housing. They said the university can build that elsewhere, and that this fight is about what the park represents. 

Longtime Berkeley resident Harvey Smith is fighting to keep People's Park in its current state. 

"It's a political space. It's a recreational space," said Smith.  

Smith is an organizer for the People's Park Historic District Advocacy Group. He attended Cal and once worked for the University, but opposes its plan to build housing on this open space. 

"It's the University of California. It is fully capable of maintaining a beautiful and well-kept park," said Smith. 

Some 100 park supporters gathered at Wheeler Hall for the first teach-in related to People's Park on the UC Berkeley Campus, bringing together staff, students, and community advocates.

Smith said student housing can be built elsewhere on UC property. 

"Despite what the administration says there's broad support on this campus for maintaining the park. I think people understand the false choice having to choose a park and student housing," said Smith. 

University officials said there's an "urgent need" for housing and that the project will provide student housing for more than 1,100 undergraduates. 

It will also establish permanent supportive housing for more than 100 unhoused and people of low income. 

Alex Knox is executive director of Berkeley's Telegraph Business Improvement District which fully supports the transformation.

"We're very excited to see it finally moving forward and feeling optimistic it's going to go through," said Knox. 

His organization recently installed planters at Dwight Triangle that's a stone's throw away from the park. Their vision is to transform it into a public gathering space. 

They believe keeping the park as it is doesn't serve the broader community. 

"They didn't feel like it was somewhere they were welcome to go and they could really enjoy," said Knox.  

Smith is hoping to recruit more support on campus.   

"We hope to mobilize teaching staff and more students. The students have been involved since the beginning," said Smith. 

It's an unrelenting battle, as Smith's lawsuit to stop the university's project will be decided by the state supreme court. 

University officials said the project will preserve and revitalize more than 60% of the site as public park space and create permanent commemorations of the site's history.

School officials said the project was designed to meet the needs of many different sectors of the Berkeley community.

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