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In yet another setback to UC Berkeley’s plans to transform historic People’s Park into housing for students and the homeless, a state appeals court has issued an injunction temporarily halting construction.

University construction crews — backed by scores of police officers — had moved into the park early Wednesday and began felling trees to commence work on the controversial project, only to retreat hours later in the face of fierce resistance from protesters.

Park supporters view the UC property — long a symbol of 1960s counterculture — as precious open space and hallowed community ground. Many rushed a newly erected fence, clashed with scores of law enforcement officers and tried to dismantle construction equipment. Seven were arrested on various charges, and one officer was injured, UC Berkeley said Thursday.

Some park proponents, including Make UC a Good Neighbor and the People’s Park Historic District Advocacy Group, also rushed to court, asking for a stay of demolition, which was granted late Thursday.

The order, issued by the California 1st District Court of Appeal, enjoins UC Berkeley from all construction, as well as from further demolition, tree cutting and landscape alteration at the park until a hearing on opponents’ environmental challenges can be heard. The university is allowed to keep the park closed off — although the security fence it erected this week will have to be rebuilt because nearly all of it was dismantled by protesters.

Protesters stand atop sections of fence dismantled from around People’s Park on Wednesday. (Stuart Leavenworth / Los Angeles Times)

The groups argued, among other things, that the university had other options for developing housing besides destroying a park that is also a national historic site, and had not adequately studied them as required by the California Environmental Quality Act. A lower court had ruled against those groups earlier this week, setting the stage for Berkeley’s middle-of-the-night rush to construction.

“UC took advantage of the legal system in order to destroy as much of the park as it could,” the president of the People’s Park Historic District Advocacy Group, Harvey Smith, said in a statement. “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.”

But university officials have maintained that in the face of a dire housing shortage they need all the housing sites they can find and said they remain committed to their plans. “We have confidence in the strength of our legal position and will be exploring all feasible options to make up for lost time and open the student housing, as scheduled, in the fall of 2024,” officials said in a statement.


UC Berkeley halts site work at People’s Park after angry protests and police clashes

A fence went up overnight, and a vocal crowd showed up Wednesday at Berkeley’s People’s Park, eventually reoccupying the property.

UC Berkeley and the city of Berkeley proposed redeveloping the park in 2018, calling it a first-in-the-nation plan to build long-term supportive housing for homeless people on university land. The university also would build 1,100 units of badly needed student housing. The university has vowed to preserve more than 60% of the 2.8 acre space as “revitalized green space” and pledged to include a memorial to the park’s historic significance.

People’s Park was born in 1969 when the university announced a plan to develop the land, which is about four blocks south of the Berkeley campus just east of Telegraph Avenue.

Outraged by the proposed development, hundreds of people dragged sod, trees and flowers to the empty lot and proclaimed it People’s Park. In response, UC erected a fence. The student body president-elect urged a crowd on campus to “take back the park” and more than 6,000 people marched down Telegraph to do just that. A violent clash ensued, leaving one man dead and scores injured.

Although embraced by many Berkeley residents as a city institution, others see it as a blight and unsafe for nearby residents. The park was added to the National Register of Historic Places in May. Although the Berkeley City Council had once opposed development, the current council supports the university’s plan.

In preparation for construction, the university, working with the city and nonprofit groups, offered transitional housing to residents of the park for up to a year and a half, as well as meals and social services.

Berkeley City Councilmember Rigel Robinson, a UC Berkeley graduate who now represents the campus and the city’s Southside, including People’s Park, said that more than 70 residents had moved to the Rodeway Inn in recent months, and many had already received permanent supportive housing.

“This is working,” Robinson said in a statement. “People’s Park has been a powerful symbol of resistance against government oppression, but it has since become a symbol of something else entirely: our failure as a region to respond to the housing crisis.”

“The time has come to turn the page and tackle these challenges head-on,” he said. “By immediately sheltering the unhoused community at the park and building the student housing and permanent supportive housing that is so desperately needed in our city, we are doing just that.”

The Times’ Stuart Leavenworth contributed to this report from Berkeley.

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Commentary: The Real Job Crisis in Florida

by Steven Camarota


The real crisis in the U.S. labor market is not, as we keep hearing, that there are not enough people who can work. The real crisis is all the working-age people on the sidelines, not even looking for a job. Yes, the unemployment rate is low, but that statistic covers only people who have looked for a job in the last four weeks. The labor force participation rate, which measures the share of working-age people working or at least looking for work, shows a long-term decline, especially for men without a college degree. This is especially true in states like Florida. When able-bodied men are not even looking for work, a host of social problems ensue — from crime, to drug addiction, to family breakdown. 

The possible reasons for the decline in labor-force participation are as varied as the suggested solutions, but the role of immigration, both legal and illegal, is difficult to deny. A comprehensive 2016 study from the National Academies found that increasing the supply of labor through immigration reduces the wages for some U.S.-born workers and this almost certainly reduces the incentive to work. 

Perhaps more importantly, the crutch of immigration allows politicians, employers, and the public to ignore this dramatic decline in work and the social problems it causes. We have a clear recent example of this. Even though labor-force participation remains near historic lows in all of their states, at the end of April a bipartisan group of senators were in talks to legalize illegal immigrants and significantly increase guestworkers to satisfy employers. 

Just how large is the decline in labor-force participation in Florida? Using the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ Current Population Survey, which excludes jails and prisons, research by myself and Karen Zeigler shows that the number of 16- to 64-year-olds not in the labor force increased 54 percent between the first quarter of 2000 and the first quarter of this year, even though the state’s population grew only 28 percent. 

Among Florida men between the ages of 25 and 54, which is the “prime age” for work, only 82 percent of the U.S.-born without a bachelor’s degree were in the labor force in the first quarter of this year, down from 84 percent in 2019 before Covid, and 90 percent at the peak of the expansion in 2000. Back in 1979 it was 94 percent, though we cannot break out the U.S.-born separately in the older data.

Over this time period, the immigrant population grew dramatically in Florida. The foreign-born share of the state’s population more than doubled, from 11 percent in 1980 to 23 percent today. Roughly four-fifths of the five million foreign-born residents now living in the Sunshine state are legal immigrants. No one should “blame” immigrants for the labor force decline of the U.S.-born per se, or begrudge immigrants’ desire to achieve a better life in the U.S. But continuing to allow so many people into the country has consequences for the existing population, including competition with lower-skilled workers.

Of course, not every job taken by an immigrant is one lost by an American, but research shows that immigration impacts internal migration, indicating that competition does exist. An academic paper published last year shows that as immigrants moved into southern Florida, fewer U.S.-born workers arrived and more left. An analysis published this year finds this same phenomenon nationally. This confirms much older work from the 1990s. 

Furthermore, the U.S.-born are a majority of workers in all but six of the 474 occupations defined by the Department of Commerce. There are no, “jobs that Americans won’t do.” It is true that agricultural labor is majority immigrant, but it comprises less than one-half of 1 percent of the U.S. labor force and there is already an unlimited guestworker program for this relatively tiny sector of the workforce. 

To be sure, immigration is certainly not the only cause of the decline in labor-force participation. Getting less-educated Americans back to work will involve reforming our welfare and disability systems and trade policies. Allowing wages to rise, partly by reducing immigration, would certainly make work more attractive. Combating the opioid crisis, improving job training, and re-instilling the value of work will all have to play a role. None of this will be quick or easy. But we are much less likely to even address the problem unless immigration is reduced. Bringing in immigrants to fill jobs means turning a blind eye to the destructive impact of idleness among the native-born.

– – –

Steven Camarota is Director of Research at the Center for Immigration Studies in Washington, D.C.




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