Interview with Kitty Stryker November 20, 2018
On 11/20/18 2:58 PM, Kitty Stryker wrote:
Hello! Thanks for being willing to answer a few questions for me/California Magazine!
KS: -Name -
CD: She, her
KS: -How you'd like to be identified (by a job title, a project you worked on, etc)
East Bay writer and musician, Human Rights Editor for Street Spirit newspaper.
KS: -People's Park has a rich and storied history. Why is the park important to you in particular?
CD: It stands for and reflects principles I care about; free speech, open space, user development, the anti-war movement, sharing what you have, helping those in need, and opposition to the university's efforts to repress our history and our culture. And our music! I was sued for $250,000 in a civil court SLAPP-suit for writing a song called "See You in Santa Rita" which I played on Sproul steps last Thursday.
KS: -Chancellor Carol Christ has said "Whatever one thinks of the ideals that motivated the creation of the park, it is hard to see the park today as embodying those ideals. It is equally hard to determine who the people are that benefit from the park in its current form." Why and how is People's Park important to the community today?
CD: The park isn't and never was some Hollywood set piece. It was a living, breathing reflection of the community of people who built it and played and gardened there. That may not seem crucial to the chancellor, but when we need each other we cooperate and create better when we know each other because we've built things together, played music together, cooked and eaten together. I'm not sure the chancellor will ever get it.
KS: -What work has been done to improve the park as a public space? Has the University helped or hindered that work? In what ways?
CD: The university enlisted the National Guard to shoot people. That didn't help. When you're willing to kill for volleyball or ego you lose all moral ground. Park supporters do the gardening, keep up the stage, help the hungry, and do their best to rebuild what the university tears down. The most important improvements have nothing to do with the physical space, which changes with the seasons like any park does. It would improve the park enormously if the university would take a respectful, cooperative approach to working with its supporters instead of always trying to destroy it. And them. They've never apologized for killing people. Or suing people. Suing a folksinger like me over a song is an idiotic waste of scarce public funds.
KS: -The University says that the space is needed for student housing and homeless housing. The City of Berkeley apparently only has 30 beds available for homeless folks. Do you think this is a solution to those issues? Why or why not?
CD: People's Park is a city landmark, 2.8 acres in one of the densest areas in Berkeley. Within three blocks is UC's Smyth-Fernwald campus - 10 acres already zoned and used for housing and not a landmarked site. Across the street from that is 130 acres of UC's Clark-Kerr campus, again already zoned and used for housing and not a landmarked site. Don't think for a minute that this is about housing.
Also, about the number of shelter beds - there's an important issue there. The City of Berkeley has for years had about 240 shelter beds (not 30) to which you can add the new ones, the couple dozen or so just added this past year down by the dump in West Berkeley. But your point is a good one - there aren't enough places for our approximately 1000 unhoused people to go. You and readers need to know that this is deliberate. That's my opinion. When former Mayor Tom Bates became mayor in 2002 there were 240 shelter beds. When he left office four terms later in 2016 there were 240 shelter beds. But Bates magically found instant housing for the grieving families of the five Irish students who fell to their deaths when a balcony fell off one of the substandard new developments downtown.
This city is determined not to shelter or house people once they become homeless unless they're one of a very few willing to wait years and run a humiliating gauntlet of forms, tests, and investigations, and even then they'll probably end up in Oakland or a shelter in Richmond, where they're technically no longer a Berkeley citizen and ineligible for Berkeley housing options. That happened to a friend of mine after an eviction.
This is a useful way not to interrupt the status quo: an even flow of mostly short-term students through the mostly high-end housing. Each time a student moves out, thanks to Costa-Hawkins, the rent can be hiked. Longer-term populations, like poor people and working people, are less lucrative to house.
But the lucrative, artificial, developer-created affordable housing shortage shouldn't be used against our city landmark, People's Park, any more than you'd tear down an overpass if homeless people were tenting underneath. It's absurd to suggest that the pastoral, wide-open spaces on the campus itself can't be used to house faculty and students; it already does here and there. They can build more right on campus without destroying city landmarks. It's just that most people buy their sad story of having no option but People's Park. You could hate the park and see through this.
KS: -Is there a compromise that could be made? What would that be?
CD: You could build 10 stories on Smyth-Fernwald or Clark-Kerr or both without blocking any views but a bunch of squirrels'. That's the no-brainer. It's just a stroll from campus. They already own the land, southside wouldn't have to go through another six months of street battles and nightmarish police riots. Look at any map of Berkeley and it gets really obvious that seven stories on People's Park is just dumb.
KS: -Is there anything else you want to tell me about your work with the park?
CD: When I first started gardening in the park I began decorating the garden area I worked on with little figures and odd decorations like glittery blue stars. After a few years an older woman came by and said, "how did you know this was the blue star garden?" I had had no idea. I'm not very woo-woo. I just like to play the fiddle. Now thanks to the SLAPP-suit I have a civil injunction against me for digging. Your tax dollars at work! But I still come and play the fiddle.
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