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Battle for People's Park Heats Up at Telegraph Property Owners Meeting

By Ted Friedman
Wednesday September 14, 2011 - 10:31:00 AM
Russell Bates, a street vendor, declares war on Telegraph Avenue property owners.
Ted Friedman
Russell Bates, a street vendor, declares war on Telegraph Avenue property owners.

The battle of words over the future of People's Park heated up at the monthly meeting of Telegraph property owners Tuesday morning at the Henry Durant Hotel. 

In a meet with the street, members of the Telegraph Business Improvement District got an earful its president had been itching for. 

Perhaps exceeding his own free speech philosophy, the owner of Caffe Mediterraneum , Craig Becker, newly-elected president of TBID had gone out of his way to invite street radicals to the group's monthly meeting. The Med claims to be the "birthplace" of the 60's Free Speech Movement. Many of the radicals had to turn down his "too early" invite. 

But the three who showed up (one was no radical) to the public meeting did not disappoint. One, Mary-Ann Uribe (billing herself as a retired attorney and "Mother" to youngsters in the Park) came close to threatening to sue the owners, while Russell Bates, a long-time street vendor of radical bumper stickers declared war. 

Roland Peterson, official spokesman for the property owners had gotten his own earful earlier in e-mails and voice mails spiced with multi-expletives in response to reports characterizing TBID's "proposal", which the angry responders regarded as a crackdown in the park. The proposal, which Becker, its chief author, later re-named a "resolution" contained some harsh changes for the park. 

The resolution calls for stepped-up enforcement of park rules and a major shift in the park's user population to favor students, who surround and vastly outnumber the present demographic. Most students avoid the park. 

Ed Denton, the U.C. Berkeley vice-chancellor to whom the resolution was addressed, refers to TBID's resolution as "a letter". According to a university spokesperson, Denton found the letter "interesting, and thoughtful." 

What does he really think, though, the Planet asked. "I have no idea," said the spokesperson. 

Most critics think the university neglects the park despite the school's expenditures forregular landscaping, regular restroom maintenance, and a site-co-ordinator operating out of an office in the park. We asked whether the cash-strapped university could afford any of the proposals cited in TBID's letter. "If the university felt the need for additional park expenditures, they can always find a way to fund it," the spokesperson said. 

Although the university's current long range planning report (effective until 2020) lists no plans for the park, plans could develop at any time, according to the spokesperson. 

Paul -Kealoha Blake, co-owner, of the East-Bay Media Center in Berkeley, the third guest to comment, noted that in the downtown arts district, which is home to the media center, "we work collectively" (rather than unilaterally). He was not the first to urge collective effort on the property owners. 

Russell Bates likened the face-off between TBID and the street to "a war" in which "we will oppose it (the resolution). "It's time to stop now and work with the community." 

Blake told of better days in the park when he would take his young daughter for walks in the park "but not anymore." 

Mary Ann Uribe, who arrived last month in Berkeley in her car, which was impounded by Berkeley police for lapsed registration, and who is presently homeless, claimed that the property owners might find themselves the subjects of a lawsuit over their resolution. 

Citing the recent back injuries to "Amy Blue," who plunged 20 feet from a platform during a tree-sit in the park, Uribe claimed that "you could be liable for Amy's injuries under the eggshell plaintiff" rule. 

"You could be held accountable by law, because Amy's cohort, 'Moon Shadow' told T.V. reporters he (and later) Amy were in the tree to protest your letter," she said. 

Uribe warned the owners they "needed to be careful to not rid the park of people with nowhere to go. You are powerful and need to be aware of the position you put yourself in," she said. 

Doris Moskowitz, a former TBID president told Becker, "we have a public relations crisis as a result of your letter." 


Becker later wondered if inviting radicals to the meeting had been a good idea. 

He announced that a sit-lie proposal-in-progress was just "sitting around." 

Ted Friedman reports for the Planet on the South side.