Park Location

Bounded by Haste and Dwight on the North and South and by Telegraph and Bowditch on the West and East

2.8 Acres
Basketball Court

People's Park was created amidst the turmoil of the 1960s radical political activism as an alternative free speech forum to Sproul Plaza. Today, it is primarily used as a shelter for Berkeley's homeless population. It is sometimes used for its basketball courts and for concerts.

Also see Parks for info on other local parks

A Brief History of the Park

In 1967, the University of California received the funds necessary to apply eminent domain to the plot of land where the park now sits and acquired it in order to use the land for a student parking lot and sports field. However, midway through construction the university ran out of development funds, and left the park to languish, soon being filled with broken cars and other debris. Neighborhood groups collaborated to develop new plans for the space and on April 20, 1969, Berkeley residents began work on clearing out the space and developing it into a public park, an effort that completed the following May. A number of organizers of the volunteers envisioned the park to be an safe place for free speech activities. University officials collaborated with organizers of the new park and in early May gave park organizers a three week window to develop a plan for the park, promising that no action on the part of the university would be taken without prior warning.

A Place of Protest

Governor Reagan, who had longstanding distaste towards UC Berkeley for being what he saw as a “haven for communist sympathizers, protesters, and sex deviants,” strongly disapproved of the university’s handling of state-property and resolved to intervene. On May 15th 1969 at 4:30 am, a force of 300 highway patrolmen and Berkeley police officers erected a chain-link fence around the park. Later that day, a rally at UC Berkeley, originally regarding the Israeli – Palestinian conflict, converted into a protest of the sudden closure of the park. That day, later to become known as “Bloody Thursday,” would see over 6,000 protesters clashing with nearly 800 law enforcement personnel, with protesters opening fire hydrants and throwing rocks and bricks, and police officers releasing tear gas and firing shotgun rounds of either birdshot or live “00” buckshot rounds into the crowd. Many were wounded, and one student, James Rector, died. Soon after, Governor Reagan ordered 2,700 National Guardsmen to Berkeley, who proceeded to break up assemblies of more than four people, enforce a curfew, and sometimes arresting en-masse people walking around the city.

Ever since then, any attempt to re-purpose the park has been met with vehement protest, the most recent being when the university installed a set of volleyball courts at the south end of the park in 1991. The courts were dismantled six years later. Assemblies have also taken place at the part to demonstrate against the various political issue of the day, such as the Vietnam War in the 1970s.

Recent attempts to improve the park

In 2008, the University of California commissioned a San Francisco consulting group, MKThink, to develop ideas for revamping the park. The firms put forward a set of proposals, which included installing wireless internet access, using it as a venue for wellness seminars, and a range of cosmetic improvements such as creating a formal entrance, upgrading the bathrooms and wooden bandstand, putting in more lighting, thinning vegetation and improving the garden space.

The proposals were met with deep skepticism by some, most notably the organizers of East Bay Food not Bombs (a group that serves meals to the homeless at the park) who dismissed the proposals as just another attempt by the university to force out the homeless population (see quotes by East Bay Food not Bombs member Arthur Fonseca mid way through this SF Chronicle article). It appears that out of fear of drawing a sharp outcry the University of California has delayed indefinitely the implementation of any of the recommendations of the MKThink study.

See also