University of California, Berkeley work crews descended on People's Park Wednesday for what was described as "intensive maintenance."
According to one observer, the workers were hidden behind high orange tarps.
People's Park, which abuts Bowditch Street between Haste Street and Dwight Way, has a checkered history. A year after UC Berkeley bulldozed early 20th century buildings on the site — many of them providing low-cost housing for students — in 1968, Berkeley residents created what was quickly dubbed "People's Park" on the vacant land.
About 25 days later, on May 15, 1969, police entered the park and a fence was constructed, kicking off two weeks of intense protest and confrontation. One man, James Rector, was killed when Alameda County Sheriff's deputies fired on protesters, and another, Alan Blanshard, was blinded. The demonstrations culminated in a march through Berkeley by 30,000 protesters on May 30, 1969.
Subsequently the City of Berkeley took over management of the park, and it later became the site of a camp for the homeless as well as social service efforts and recreational activities.
UC Berkeley issued the following press release about the work Wednesday:
"BERKELEY —Work crews are engaged in an intensive maintenance project today (Wednesday, Dec. 28) in the western part of People’s Park in an effort to provide students and the broader community with safer, more sanitary conditions.
"The effort, which began this morning and is expected to be finished by the end of the day, will trim hedges, trees and foliage, improve visibility and help reduce a rat population that resides in heavy plant cover in the park.
"Focusing on the western portion of the park, maintenance workers will clear the heavy vegetation now crowding sidewalks and other areas. Ed Denton, vice chancellor for facilities services at UC Berkeley, said that members of the campus community and owners of local business have long expressed concerns about the appearance of the park and its growing rat population.
“Our goal is to make the park and surrounding areas as safe as possible, and removing certain plants and vegetation to improve visibility through the park is a key step in that direction,” said Denton. “This is an important effort for our students and the community in general.”
"Work crews will replace some removed vegetation with seeding for smaller plants that consume little water and are decorative. These will include native grasses and flowers such as the California poppy.
"The overall look of the park itself will not change — the stage, benches, community gardens and other features will remain intact. An overhead arbor structure that is heavily covered with vegetation will be removed. The goal, according to Denton, is to conduct a full day’s worth of routine heavy park maintenance work during a relatively slow period during the academic year. Additional, incremental improvements will take place over the next couple of months. These will include adding new trash cans and more lights, installing wire mesh at the stage to discourage rats, fixing drainage and improving the compost bin to discourage rats.
"People’s Park, owned by UC Berkeley, is located a few blocks south of the central campus. It is bounded by Bowditch Street, Haste Street and Dwight Way."