University Seeks Community Input on People’s Park Report

By Riya Bhattacharjee
Friday October 26, 2007

The People’s Park Community Advisory Board is now accepting public comments on the draft report assessing the park’s needs and planning future changes. 

The board is scheduled to meet at the Trinity Methodist Church, 2362 Bancroft Way, on Nov. 5 from 7 to 9 p.m. to hear public comments on the report and state of the park. The board will make recommendations to the university on Dec. 3 about the study and future steps. 

San Francisco-based consultants MK-Think were paid $100,000 by UC Berkeley to conduct an assessment study to improve the park, which took place over the last nine months. 

The findings, according to MKThink, aim to address project goals of making the park safer and generating greater use by a broader range of community members. 

“They have done a good job but we still have a long way to go,” said Irene Hegarty, director of community relations for UC Berkeley. “The consultants have given us their best judgment, but if people think there are other things that should be taken into consideration we will listen to them.” 

The report focused on three ways to look at the site: an urban park, a student and community center and an arts park. 

At a community workshop held in July, park users, Telegraph Avenue merchants and residents and university officials shared ideas with MKThink about the issues of safety, homelessness and future programs and designs for the 2.8 acre site south of the UC Berkeley campus. 

Although student workshops were scheduled, Hegarty said lack of participation led to them being canceled. 

The 34-page report states that People’s Park is “often characterized as a battleground between park activists and the University of California,” which owns the property. Additionally, it states that many wanted the park to remain an open space and asked that the university recognize the struggles that took place to create it. Although homeless problems are discussed in the report, nothing conclusive is said about their future in the park. 

Board member George Beier said that he was hoping that the homeless issue would be discussed in detail at future meetings. 

“I really don’t believe you should push people out of a place until there is a place for them to go,” he said. “On the whole I think MKThink was sensitive to the needs of park users in the report ... I think the idea of tumbling into the park, of welcoming people, of using it as a place of reconciliation is great.” 

Beier added that he hadn’t seen a lot of space dedicated in the report about the history of the park. “I have said in the past that it would be great to have something small like a cafe to mark the history of the place and have a cup of coffee,” he said. “That’ll attract young people.” 

UC Berkeley student and board member Ionas Porges-Kiriakou said that he would like to see the word “green” before open space in the executive summary. 

“It’s too early to say if the $100,000 was well spent or not,” he said about the consultants’ fee. “If positive changes do happen to the park, then, yes, it was well spent.” 

Porges-Kiriakou also complained that students were under-represented in the report. 

“Successful outreach was not done,” he said. “I had to tell most of my friends about the meetings, and these are students who are aware of what’s going on in the community ... The report was MKThink’s analysis of public input rather than public input itself.” 

Board member Gianni Ranuzzi urged community members to read the report. 

“It’s a step to promote continued dialogue,” she said. “MKThink’s recommendations for improving restrooms, lighting and drainage seems doable.” 

Board members said that they were interested to see what plans the university had to move the report forward. 

The draft report can be viewed at www.communityrelations.berkeley.edu or at the People’s Park Office, next to the basketball court. Community members can comment on the draft report by e-mail at pplspark@berkeley.edu or send comments by mail to: People’s Park Community Advisory Board, 336 Sproul Hall #4208, Berkeley, CA 94720-4208.