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In Berkeley's People's Park: A Slow Week in Lake Woebegone
Except for Rats, as Park Activists Eschew Violence,
Focus on 42nd Anniversary

By Ted Friedman
Tuesday February 15, 2011 - 08:07:00 PM

It was a slow week in Lake Woebegone, aka People's Park. Park rats kept to schedule, however. 

No stabbings in trees, no high profile busts. 

Don't call Berkeley rats—in your best Cagney: "you rats, you dirty rats!" They are Rattus norvegicus, cousins of the "cute little mice," befriended by regulars of the Berkeley Inn, now a vacant lot frequented by the Berkeley Inn mice's high-living cousins (burgers and pizza washed down with coke?). 

The Berkeleyside site may have thought Berkeley rats was a big story: "The rats of Telegraph Avenue," complete with a gripping one minute video, but sources in the park say the sewer rats have outwitted the university—with all its scientific resources—for more than a decade. 

According to Berkeleyside's video, the filmic sewer rats would have made Cagney proud. Working below Screen Actor's Guild wages, the rats accept, as a gratuity, Telegraph Avenue's four star catering services. 

Yes, the rich food they crave is widely available in People's Park and near the old Berkeley Inn site where leftovers often are tossed. 

But according to Roland Peterson, 53, a spokesman for Telegraph Avenue businessmen, whose office is in an historic Victorian next to the Berkeley Inn lot, construction nearby may have disrupted one of the obese rats’ main pathways. 

But enough with the rats (Who does their publicity?). 

The People's Park Planning Committee which meets at 1 p.m. . . .in the park each Sunday near the stage (open to the public) has turned its attention away from violence in the park to what it does best—promoting the annual celebration of People's Park's founding with local bands and speakers. 

Unrest in the park related to a recent stabbing in an occupied tree in the park followed by the arrest of the victim of that stabbing on an assault charge unrelated to the stabbing, has abated. 

The park's 42nd anniversary celebration is scheduled for April 24. Speakers, including counter-culture celebs, will speak between Indy, folk, and ethnic music sets at an open mike, according to Michael Delacour, 72, still a force in the park after 42 years of park activism. 

Although the university and park activists are not hugging each other, there is a grudging tolerance on both sides. Although some planning committee members resent the university's park involvement, they must secure a permit from the university to stage events.  

The university, a major, although controversial player in the park's troubled history, oversees the park, through an on-site "co-coordinator," whose tiny office, although attached to the rear end of the park’s restroom overlooks a panorama of historic and expensive real estate. 

Meanwhile, an Indian elder in the Blackfeet tribe, Running Wolf, 47, is fund-raising for another tree-sit to replace the three month long protest that ended in a stabbing January 28. 

A new park protest would bring—judging by the tangled web of resentments that led up the January stabbing—a new note of discord in the park. 

And those pesky rats—remember the rats?—could suffer an upsetting case of indigestion. After more than a decade, those rats are now Berkeleyans, too. 


Ted Friedman, who is covering the park for the Planet, has owned a hamster and two rats; his granddaughters had a pair.