Saving Berkeley’s People’s Park

by Steed Dropout
Sept. 8, 2014

Saving People’s Park in 1969 was easy if you were prepared to die.

Close to half a century after its salvation by townies and students, the park has become a living memorial to its bloody birth.

People's Park Owner's Shack. Photo by Ted Friedman.

Although park regulars see treacherous university operatives lurking under every stone, U.C.Berkeley, which owns the valuable 2.8 acre oasis, has cared for–if not coddled–the former mud-pit.

Cal expenditure records for upkeep in the park are unavailable–as is the university’s philosophy of park governance. Cal regularly deploys a swarm of paid workers to maintain the park but is mum about the future of this refuge for many of Berkeley’s mentally ill and homeless.

Dropouts Drop In. Photo by Ted Friedman.

A university official told me, a few years ago, that where People’s Park is concerned the university has no stated park policy. “Which university?” the official teased; “there are many voices of the university.” Her list of voices started with students and ended with regents. Add up the voices and you get a Tower of Babel from the Ivory Tower.

Regularly, “the park” makes news with feats of crime and knees jerk to boot miscreants from the park. In a hot race for then South side’s district-seven city council seat four years ago, George Beier went so far as to recommend “changes” in the park.

Beier was narrowly defeated; but park activists have not forgotten that their lifestyles were put on a public chopping block.

Most nuts and bolt changes in the park, have not succeeded and some have led to strife, as in the case of the free clothes box flap, a flap which keeps flapping. Much-needed storage lockers never got up and running. Storage lockers might have reduced theft in the park.

Although calls, in the past, for a new restroom building are rarely heard–a new restroom building would be appreciated by all, including visitors to a South side lacking latrines. The park playground is dangerous.

Here’s an idea: a perp-bulletin board with police mug shots of People’s Park “fiends-of-the-month,” and this warning–Try not to pass out in the park. You may awaken to a butt-kicking and loss of gear.

Friend of the Month. Photo by Ted Friedman.

Alas, a voice from the Ivory Tower, or perhaps the Tower of Babel has declared: [on your perp bulletin board suggestion] “This is not how we want to present the park.”

See? The university speaks: “We want the park to be a welcoming place.”

These views do not represent the views of publications in which my work appears.

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