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The Inquirer

The student news site of Diablo Valley College.

The Inquirer

The student news site of Diablo Valley College.

The Inquirer

UC Berkeley Vice Chancellor Addresses People’s Park Closure, the University’s Housing Initiative and its Impact on Community

In a city known for its vibrant activism, the Jan. 4 closure of People’s Park by UC Berkeley has sparked impassioned debates over the availability of student housing, preservation of a historic park, and the challenges of addressing the houseless on the city streets.

At the center of the controversy stands the university’s administration, whose decision to shutter the park and evict its residents provoked a visible clash with activists and members of the community.

In a recent interview with The Inquirer, and as a follow-up to the initial story this paper ran last month about the park’s contentious closure, Dan Mogulof, UC Berkeley’s Assistant Vice Chancellor in the Office of Communications and Public Affairs, provided a nuanced perspective on the tensions surrounding the city’s controversial landmark.

Mogulof, who has nearly two decades of experience working with the university—he served for 10 years as its Executive Director of Public Affairs and for nearly the past decade in his current role—said the decision to wall off People’s Park was by no means arbitrary.

Rather, it was part of a broader university housing initiative, launched in 2017, that sought to meet growing student demand by providing 8,000 to 9,000 new beds and building “housing on every available and appropriate piece of land it owns close to campus,” he explained.

Mogulof emphasized that the closure of the park was not an administrative maneuver, but rather a response to the pressing housing crisis that has long affected students and the broader Berkeley community.

Prioritizing student housing

“There is a community impact of not having enough housing for students,” said Mogulof. “We understand there is a strong opposition, but we have every reason to believe that the vast majority of the public supports the initiative. 

“The City Council has backed the housing unanimously, the California State legislator backed it, the mayor backed it, the governor backed it,” he added, and “we did polling with students and students supported it 2:1.” 

Mogulof said the university prioritized making affordable housing as accessible as possible to its student body.  

“The university believes that to take full advantage of all we have to offer, you really need to live close to campus,” Mogulof said and reiterated that the school’s core principle of “equity of experience” guided its decision-making process.

Over the years, numerous factors have been at play, he clarified, as “students are out in the market, in the expensive market, trying to find housing, [and] that creates gentrification pressure and raises the rent for regular people living in Berkeley.”

Crime in particular played a pivotal role in the university’s decision to develop the iconic park, he said.

“Ironically, in the last three years, there’s been no greater center of crime than the People’s Park site,” Mogulof said, reflecting UC Berkeley’s growing safety concerns both for its students and for unhoused individuals generally, due to the large numbers of people who slept in the park overnight.

“People didn’t use to sleep in the park prior to the pandemic,” he said. But after the economic shutdown sent shockwaves through the economy and drove more at-risk individuals onto the streets, the school “had to stop enforcing its no-camping rule.”

As a result, “in the years that followed and people started sleeping in People’s Park, crime numbers went off the charts,” Mogulof added. 

Respecting the democratic process

While Mogulof acknowledged the public’s right to oppose the park’s closure, he also condemned people’s use of violence and vandalism to make their point.

“If we begin to think it’s okay for people who are unhappy with democratic decisions to engage in violence or vandalism to get their way, we’re in a lot of trouble,” he said, emphasizing the need for civil discourse.

The school’s approval of the Jan. 4 police crackdown—which closed the park and created a construction site surrounded by shipping containers—received ample public criticism. However, in response, Mogulof said, “This university is not in the habit of breaking the law.”

“It is completely legal,” he argued. “Are you aware of a law that [says] you are not allowed to protect a construction site?”

Local activists had accused the university of closing the park due to its profit motive, but Mogulof disputed the claim.

“We can’t make a profit,” he said. “We’re not allowed to. We’re a non-profit university.”

On the contrary, he added, by closing the park and paving the way for its conversion to housing in one of the tightest rental markets in the country, the university was helping bring solutions to a growing crisis.

“We are donating land worth $8 million for the construction of permanent supportive housing for unhoused people,” he said.

Mogulof said the university has taken an inclusive approach to addressing the situation of the unhoused population that formerly lived within the park.

“How did we develop our plan for the unhoused people?” he said. “We talked to them.”

“As a society, we can and must do better than simply offering people a piece of dirt to sleep on, which is what was happening before in People’s Park. And people want to preserve that?”

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About the Contributor
Jag Mishra, Staff Writer

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  • J

    JenniferApr 7, 2024 at 5:35 pm

    The “we are a non-profit university” quote elicited guffaw. How much is U.C. tuition now?