October 4, 2023

BERKELEY — Neighborhood teams tied to Individuals’s Park have filed a $4.5 million lawsuit in opposition to the College of California Regents, claiming officers “willfully and maliciously” destroyed the group’s crops and property — hindering entry and pleasure of the park within the course of.

Three 50-year-old nonprofits — the Individuals’s Park Council, Individuals’s Park Mission and Native Plant Discussion board — filed a civil grievance this week in Alameda County Superior Court docket, discovering fault in how the Regents, the UC system’s governing board, ordered demolition crews final August to begin felling timber and fencing within the property a number of blocks south of UC Berkeley’s campus.

UC Berkeley first eyed the positioning for growth when it seized the land by eminent area and bulldozed the property in 1968 — abandoning a vacant, muddy lot that lots of of residents finally remodeled right into a park with sod, flowers and timber in 1969. Amid UC’s push to construct on the open area, the land subsequently emerged as a hotbed of activism and cradled a long time of political protest, together with the notorious “Bloody Thursday” battle between Berkeley residents, college students and regulation enforcement.

It wasn’t till 2021 that the college authorized its present, controversial plan to develop the positioning into housing for greater than 1,000 college students and as much as 100 models for unhoused residents.

Demolition lastly started earlier than daybreak on Aug. 3, 2022, however the complete venture was placed on maintain after a chaotic, million-dollar standoff erupted between police and protesters who needed to protect the two.8 acres of land as open area. The college and its housing plans have since slogged by means of authorized challenges and appeals, and are at present awaiting a California Supreme Court docket to ruling on whether or not or not the event can transfer ahead.

Within the meantime, Monday’s lawsuit contends that college officers knowingly ravaged the crops, timber, shrubs and wildflowers that college students and neighbors fostered at Individuals’s Park — regardless of a collection of oral agreements and signed letters between UC and group volunteers within the Nineteen Seventies and ‘80s.

Moreover, the nonprofits declare the demolition broken a wheelchair ramp to the “Individuals’s Stage,” a bandstand constructed in 1979 to facilitate free speech and music at Individuals’s Park, which now illegally limits disabled entry.

David Axelrod, an lawyer and member of the Individuals’s Park Council, mentioned the gardens, crops and constructions are owned by the individuals who planted and constructed them, estimating that UC’s demolition racked up $4.5 million in financial damages — $2.8 million from misplaced property and $1.7 million in repairs.

“We invested numerous time, cash, effort and sweat fairness in constructing that park,” Axelrod mentioned in an interview Friday. “It was not meant to be a donation to UC Berkeley or the UC Regents, nor did they view it that means through the years.”

UC Berkeley spokesperson Dan Mogulof shortly dismissed the lawsuit as merely the “newest iteration of a case that’s been thrown out again and again by the courts.” He rejected the declare that UC has ever ceded possession of any portion of the property, particularly contemplating the truth that the college continues to be planning to develop a $300 million venture there.

Axelrod mentioned there have been a number of disputes between the college and advocates in regards to the park’s flora since a minimum of the Nineteen Seventies, however that is the primary time points in regards to the gardens have been dropped at courtroom. Whereas Axelrod concedes that UC Berkeley does personal the land at Individuals’s Park, he in contrast that argument to destroying a automotive that parks in somebody’s driveway.

“That doesn’t imply you personal my automotive and you may wreck it — you’re gonna must pay, even when I park there with out permission,” Axelrod mentioned. However the group organizations “had permission and the college knew we have been planning these timber.”

BERKELEY, CA – AUGUST 3: Employees reduce down a tree at Peoples Park on Wednesday, Aug. 3, 2022, in Berkeley, Calif. UC Berkeley plans to start developing housing on the website for 1,100 college college students and 125 homeless residents. (Aric Crabb/Bay Space Information Group)