Five members of the People’s Park Community Advisory Board resigned last week after falling out with UC Berkeley officials over the university’s reluctance to sponsor an open competition to choose a new design as part of ongoing efforts to remodel the park.
At a Dec. 3 meeting, advisory board member and architect Sam Davis had suggested the idea of a competition based on the People’s Park Assessment and Planning Study prepared by San Francisco-based consultants MKThink.
While advisory board members Joe Halperin, George Beier, Kristine Dixon and John Selawsky agreed with Davis that a competition would enhance plans to redevelop the park, others on the board resisted the move, calling it premature.
The university was scheduled to formally announce its decision about the competition at a board meeting Monday (Feb. 4), after the Daily Planet’s deadline. UC officials informed Davis and Halperin during a private meeting on Jan. 23 that they were against the idea of an open competition.
“It was clear to us they were not going to proceed with any design, and even more clear that they were not going to proceed with any kind of improvements,” Davis told the Planet Friday. “They told us that they didn’t want to do a competition as the campus might have some use for the land. They said that they would have to do a needs-based assessment first.”
Davis and Halperin informed Beier, Dixon and Selawsky about the university’s intentions.
“We decided to only tell the board members who had voted in favor of the competition,” Davis said.
Then the group of five drafted their resignation letter and sent it to university officials on Jan. 27.
Halperin and Beier did not return phone calls from the Planet for comment. Selawsky refused to comment on his resignation.
Irene Hegarty, director of community relations at UC Berkeley, said that Davis’ decision to inform only five of the eleven board members had not violated the Brown Act since the advisory board was not subject to its regulations.
“You could say it violated the spirit of the Brown Act,” she said.
Hegarty added that the university had decided to inform Davis and Halperin of their decision prior to a formal board meeting since they were the principal proponents of the competition.
“I am a little surprised by their resignation,” she said. “Some of them have been particularly engaging and I am sorry to lose them. But it’s their individual decision. They want a sweeping dramatic change overnight which was not possible.”
Board member Gianna Ranuzzi said she had been surprised to see the resignation letter.
“I find the letter inappropriate,” she said. “The arguments for not holding a competition have not been presented formally to the board ... But I agree with the university that it’s premature to have a contest for the design of the park. It’s important to work on the social issues first.”
Ranuzzi said she agreed with Davis’ other suggestion—that of a university-appointed task force—which would provide social services to at-risk individuals frequenting the park.
The letter blames the university for neglecting its obligations toward the park’s homeless population and for its inability to reduce crime and drug dealing in and around the park.
Davis, Halperin, Beier, Dixon and Selawsky also refuted the university’s arguments against holding a competition in their resignation letter.
“When the campus retained MKThink, their charge was to seek input from all the stake holders,” the letter said. “If the UC administration chose not to participate, or did not provide compelling information, it is testament to their lack of interest in real change and that they do not see any urgency for change ...The park has been in existence for 40 years. Why should we have any confidence that they will suddenly have an epiphany of how they want to use the land?”
Hegarty, who was present at the private meeting, said that the university did not want to encourage the idea of a design competition at this point.
“We did not think it was appropriate,” she told the Planet. “It has some concepts that haven’t been broadly discussed. Sam was very eager to move forward and wanted the university to aggressively pursue this but leaping to a strategy is not a good idea right now ... We are in a very tight budget year. The university cannot promise to implement what might come out of a competition.”
According to Hegarty, another reason for rejecting the idea of a competition was the uncertainty about what kind of design the university wanted to see at the park.
“Before getting into the design, we need to clarify the needs,” she said.
“Design is a form of research and discovery that need not necessarily yield the definitive final result,” Davis said.
Park Advisory Board meeting
A People’s Park Community Advisory Board meeting was scheduled for Monday at the Trinity Methodist Church, 2362 Bancroft Way.
Emily Marthinsen, UC Berkeley vice chancellor, was scheduled to present a plan to move forward with the People’s Park Assessment and Planning Study. The university was also planning to respond to the board’s Dec. 3 recommendation concerning the design competition and creation of a homeless services task force.
Hegarty will introduce three new board members: UC Berkeley student Matthew Singh, park neighbor Cary Karacas and park regular Sang Ly, who will take the place of former board members Mike Bishop, Dana Merryday and Caitlin Berliner.