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UC Police Crack Down on People’s Park

By Riya Bhattacharjee
Friday April 21, 2006

There have always been leftovers at People’s Park, be it food, clothes, shoes, plants, or anything else people want to donate to those in need. 

But when Berkeley naturalist Terri Compost turned up there last Saturday to carry out her usual work-day routine of planting and spreading wood chips, a UC Berkeley police officer came up to her and said that she could no longer block access to the driveway for delivering food and garden supplies or leave food on the stage. 

Compost was also told that two officers were going to be policing People’s Park for the next month to “strictly enforce” the park rules.  

According to a flyer handed out by the People’s Park office, the park rules include the following: “No person shall bring, leave, or dump furniture, mattresses, or other household items in People’s Park. Large personal belongings or large amounts of personal belongings, that is, anything other than what can be reasonably carried on the person or reasonably used for recreational purposes, may not be brought or kept in the park at any time.” 

Thursday afternoon, when a group of People’s Park activists brought out a mobile free box to celebrate the Park’s 37th anniversary, the celebrants said that UC police informed them it was a violation of the park policy which states that “no unauthorized carts, carriages, trailers, or other vehicles of conveyance ... shall be allowed in People’s Park at any time.”  

When the group refused to comply, eight back-up UCB officers were called in, they said. According to Michael Delacour, who claims to be the man behind the idea of a People’s Park, the officers started taking pictures and videotaping the crowd’s actions. “I guess they left when they realized that there were just too many of us,” he said. 

Compost was also informed by one of the officer that any clothes or leftover food kept on the park’s stage or premises would result in a verbal warning from the officers and then ticketing.  

“This escalation on the part of UC threatens our right to share with each other and the historical use of the park,” Compost said. “As far as what has gone on and what is the norm clothes and food have always been shared at People’s Park. It was somewhat surreal to hear that if someone comes by with a bag of clothes to give to the homeless, they would be threatened or given a ticket. Even after the free box was torn down in November, the park has remained an important resource for sharing, a means of exchange. I would hate to see that go.” 

Irene Hegarty, UC Berkeley’s Director for Community Relations, said steps like this are taken from time to time to ensure proper law enforcement at the park. 

“The two cops who will be patrolling the park everyday now are there to enforce laws and rules,” she said. “They will check drug peddling and other crimes.” 

Hegarty continued, “We are not against food distribution in a healthy manner. In fact Food Not Bombs and a few other organizations who distribute food to the homeless are still coming everyday. We just don’t want the leftovers to create a rodent or a pigeon problem.” 

With respect to blocking access to the driveway, Hegarty said that 35 days of continuous rains had created a rut and damaged the decomposed granite driveway. “We don’t want it to be used as a parking lot,” she added. 

Compost, however told the Planet that the decomposed granite driveway is not harmed by driving on it. Compost said the driveway was an important access point for the community that tends People’s Park.  

“It is used by all the groups that share meals with the community, it is used during concerts and events, by groups delivering free socks, soaps or bag lunches and it is needed to drop off gardening supplies,” she said. “We did get an agreement that the cops would let Food Not Bombs come in to drop off or maybe stay during the meals. But it is a total threat to have cops sitting there telling people it is illegal to share in the park now.”  

Martin Brooks, a volunteer for Food Not Bombs, was handing out lentil soup and rice at the park on Wednesday. He told the Planet that a couple of cops had come up to him and said there would be tickets issued for littering the stage with leftover bread or food. 

“We always leave bread on the stage after distributing our free meals. This is policing people selectively. Would they do the same to church groups?” he asked.  

Sal, who cooks for Food Not Bombs, said it would be a loss for the park if no more clothes or bag lunches could be dropped off at the park. 

“First they said no free boxes, now this,” he said. “It’s a shame, people enjoyed it a lot.” 

Raymond Palmiero and Teddy Mead, who call themselves activists for People’s Park and are regulars at the free lunches, said that they were going to inaugurate the mobile free box this Sunday, during the park’s anniversary celebrations. It would be taken around the park at specific hours for collecting and distributing clothes. 

“We don’t have UC’s permission yet, but we are hoping for the best,” Mead said.  

Carrie Guilfoyle, assistant site coordinator for the People’s Park office, said she was trying to enforce the rules by telling people not to leave donations in the park. 

“I tell them to drop it off at Bing Dry and Wash,” she said. “They have a box there. The clothes pose a big problem for us and we eventually have to throw them away.” 

Capt. Mitch Celaya of the UC Berkeley police told the Planet that the two officers had been positioned at the park since April 14 to “actively enforce all park rules” and not any one rule in particular. 

“We did this back in December in order to clean up the illegal drug and alcohol activities going on in the park and it really cleaned up the place,” he said. “Now that the weather is better, we want to have the added police presence for at least a month.” 

Celaya said that dumping items in the park was a violation. 

“Our first act would be to inform them of the park rules and seek their compliance,” he said. “If they refuse we would be required to go on to the next level and issue them a citation.” 

He added that in the week the officers had been in the park so far, “no one had been issued citations for trespassing or violation of the park rules.”?