BERKELEY, Calif. (KCBS RADIO) – A judge granted a stay on the controversial construction project at Berkeley's People's Park on Thursday, preventing UC Berkeley from continuing its plans to build housing at the site.
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The construction on People's Park had already been paused on Wednesday after a police presence and construction crews early in the morning led to tension and multiple arrests.
That development happened after a judge last week gave the university the green light to begin the $312 million student housing project. The project has been met with resistance from homelessness advocates as the park is an area for many unhoused people to gather.
Now a judge has decreed that the university cease all construction, demolition, tree cutting and landscape alteration until further notice, according to a release issued by a spokesperson for community in the park.
The judge made the decision after a lawsuit brought by Make UC A Good Neighbor and the Peoples Park Historic District Advocacy Group (PPHDAG) challenged the university's plans. The suit alleges that the university didn't consider other sites for the housing, instead choosing a national historic site where people once gathered in the 1960s in the anti-war and Civil Rights movements.
"We are gratified that the Court of Appeal recognized that UC should not go forward until the court has the opportunity to review our case more fully," said Harvey Smith, President of PPHDAG in Thursday's release. "UC took advantage of the legal system in order to destroy as much of the park as it could. We are hopeful that the court will overturn the lower court decision and lead to the restoration of the park. Why should the university keep a parking lot and destroy a park? In the era of extreme climate change this is unconscionable."
Some landscape changes can be made to the park in the meantime, as long as they're necessary for public health and safety, or a fence can be added as well for security. The site is now closed and secured pending an expedited ruling, according to UC Berkeley spokesperson Kyle Gibson in a statement to KCBS Radio on Friday.
"While this new injunction will add further delay and significant additional costs to the project, we are pleased the court has agreed to an expedited process," said the statement. "The campus is now assessing options to get that done in a safe, effective way."
On the Wednesday incident, the statement added: "While we are dismayed by the readiness of some individuals to engage in dangerous, violent and unlawful activity as a way of expressing their opposition to the project, our commitment to addressing an urgent student housing crisis, and to supporting unhoused members of our community, is unwavering. We have confidence in the strength of our legal position and will be exploring all feasible options to make up for lost time."