by Carol Denney, April 2022
UC Owes Reparations, by Carol Denney
“I’m also proud to report that Gov. Newsom recently signed SB 118, my Budget Committee bill that safeguards student enrollment at UC Berkeley and ensures that CA’s environmental law doesn’t treat student enrollment differently than any other campus activity.” - Senator Nancy Skinner
It's an odd moment for pride, Senator Skinner. Some of us remember a Nancy Skinner who would have displayed modest embarrassment over the destruction of redwood trees, community gardens, rent-controlled housing, state historic resources, and national landmarks. Some of your electors thought you were that person, not the person who just erased court decisions crafted by grassroots community groups in expensive court battles just to protect our community's sleep, our health, our community resources, and our history.
As the Berkeley City Council considers the long overdue issue of reparations, it might take a moment to suggest additions the court is currently requesting to any agreement Berkeley currently has with the University of California using grassroots efforts known as Measures L and N from the 1980's as inspiration.
Measure L didn't just protect parks and open space from commercial intrusion and mandate their maintenance, it required the city to expand and create more park and open space in a city so dense it was remarked upon by planners over 100 years ago before the teensy, unwalkable balconies and roof spaces on high-rises were counted as "open space" by planners.
Measure N was equally crucial. The people of Berkeley, by a comfortable margin, voted to require the University of California to honor local restrictions and requirements so that its expansion didn't hollow out the city's historic landmarks, park space, height and zoning requirements, all the things that hang in the balance when UC decides to use capital it could use to lower tuition to buy land instead and thwart local guidelines with its exemptions.
The land it buys is California wide. The University of California is California's largest landowner. If your local media is going along with the idea that UC needs your local park to convert to housing, it's only because your local media is stupid, was just hired, or is on UC's payroll. And is absent a map.
If the Berkeley City Council cared about making sure it represented an informed electorate, it would require that UC identify and regularly post what it owns already and what it is currently bidding on in town, so that the impression UC likes to leave of a shortage of sites on which to build housing is adequately countered by the frank reality of your UC donation going nowhere near lowering tuition or addressing the maintenance of landmarked buildings currently it is letting go to ruin, buildings which are a legacy of California's architectural and cultural history which UC has a long legacy of destroying, ignoring, or in the case of 1921 Walnut, bulldozing before anybody really catches on.
The Los Angeles Times Editorial Board noted in its editorial of March 6, 2022, that the state Supreme Court's ruling agreed that UC's expanded enrollment "would have an outsize effect on traffic, noise, rental prices and the environment."
Then came Senator Skinner, whose Berkeley origins enabled legislators all over the state to fall prey to the idea that without her help qualified students wouldn't be able to attend school! Clothing was rent. Tears were shed. Headlines were everywhere. But the Los Angeles Times Editorial Board added some crucial information which did not make headlines or affect the poorly written, confusing legislative fix Skinner put into play:
"The state missed a golden opportunity to take pressure off the UC system when it let California State University open a polytechnic school at what had been severely under-enrolled Humboldt State. The school’s future is now set, at least until there’s time to see if this experiment works to boost enrollment at the Northern California campus. The school could have been converted to a UC campus much more quickly than building a new one. There’s still a chance to try converting a Cal State campus to a UC at Sonoma State, which also is experiencing declining enrollment. It makes little sense that some of the state’s institutions of higher education have to advertise to attract applicants while others are overfilled. The state’s two public university systems will need to direct more applicants to campuses that can handle additional students. Not everyone can attend UC Irvine, UC Berkeley and UCLA. UC Merced still has capacity for more students, and obviously, so do some Cal State campuses. Dream schools may not be a dream if a student is crammed into a crowded lecture hall and sleeps in a car because there’s no housing available..." Los Angeles Times Editorial Board *
The University of California’s destructive enrollment expansion beyond its agreed-upon limits with host cities got a thumbs-up with California Senator Nancy Skinner's help, who, although she came up from Berkeley, apparently hasn’t met the students living down at the underpass. "UC gets what it wants,” in the words of one of my neighbors. "And we get the CS gas.”
Senator Skinner shoveled cake into the overfed mouth of UC ignoring the deaths of James Rector, Rosebud DeNovo, David Nadel, Eli Yates, and many more. While Berkeley is considering the long-overdue issue of reparations more generally, reparations from the University of California are overdue. Recognizing the importance of parks and open space is a simple public health measure which in a more sane world would fit into Covid-19 public health requirements. And given the wealth of options the university has upon which to situate housing, it would cost nothing and generate untold amounts of goodwill to ensure that our parks remain parks, where people otherwise trapped in their apartments could see a leaf, a bird, or a tree.
Let's hope the Nobel and Pulitzer prizewinners nestled away in the Berkeley hills who are capable of entering this discussion are good at writing letters. Because whatever stereotypes they seem to enjoy about rural and mountain communities seem pretty true of them right now; that they just sit there and let things happen which should not happen. No redwood or park should be unnecessarily destroyed, not in the era of climate change, if you know anything about the remarkable qualities of Sequoia sempervirens, the only extant species of the genus in the Northern California coastal forests. If you are, please write to Senators Nancy Skinner and Buffy Wicks, who, if they know anything about basic politics, should be looking for the settlement the judges in Superior Court are unanimously pushing for right about now.
Carol Denney, co-founder of the People's Park Historic District Advocacy Group
---------------- * https://www.latimes.com/opinion/story/2022-03-06/editorial-the-state-needs-a-different-approach-to-solving-uc-crowding
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