Filed under: Critique, Land, Southwest
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From Indybay.org – People once associated with the People’s Park community are tapping out, as UC Berkeley makes further incursions into the space. Former Park allies are ending their support for People’s Park, and some are even raiding what they can as they make their exit. The People’s Park website is under control of people who have no intention of updating the Park’s internet presence, and the People’s Park funds have been absconded with. People’s Park is being dismantled by individuals who have given up the fight.
The website http://www.peoplespark.org has not been updated in years. Even though there have been 2 major tree cuttings this year alone, the operators of the website are refusing to participate in Park defense and are not using the internet presence to recruit new volunteers. The main operator of the website is Charles Gary. Charles Gary will not relinquish the website to activists associated with People’s Park, nor will Charles communicate with any park activists. The secondary operator of the People’s Park website is Dan McMullan, a friend of Berkeley Mayor Tom Bates. Dan has no current ties to People’s Park activism, and just like Charles, is refusing to use the website to communicate the current situation in People’s Park. Dan McMullan is a commissioner on the Human Welfare and Community Action Commission.
Spiral Gardens has cut off their support for People’s Park, and is no longer running an account for Park gardeners to use. They have ceased a long running friendship with Park activists. The tensions between the owners of Spiral Gardens and actual gardeners increased after the People’s Park funds were mishandled by Dana Merryday and Hali Hammer. Dana Merryday, who maintains regular contact with UC administration gave the People’s Park funds to Hali Hammer for use for her Occupella project – not for the Park. The money was handed over to Hammer after the UC told Dana that the Park stage could not be repaired. A few thousands of dollars have now been taken by Hali Hammer, and none of it went to maintain the account at Spiral Gardens. The money is now gone, and People’s Park is officially broke. UC Berkeley has been reducing the plants in the Park, and rather than fight back through increased gardening, the owners of Spiral Gardens and Hali Hammer are declaring that gardening in the Park should end. These older activists are stepping away from People’s Park, and are not supporting those who are intent to keep trying.
UC Berkeley and city government are playing favors with those who will take deals. Their are former volunteers and former friends of People’s Park who are trying to gain favor with the powers-at-be, while essentially sabotaging those who won’t give up so soon. Spiral Gardens is under financial hardship, and they will need the city to assist them to stay afloat, and so now they have decided that it is not in their best interest to associate with People’s Park. There are others in the community who want to be city commissioners, or want to have the attention of the UC administration; these individuals are attempting a total stoppage of People’s Park activism.
There are those are still want to keep the Park alive. There are still those few people who are trying to hold the line. And these volunteers are up against the UC, the city of Berkeley, and also against the former activists who are now siding against the Park and are now pushing for development on the land.
People’s Park is not over. People’s Park is not finished. It is not a cafe, it is not student housing. There still is a garden there on the land. People’s Park needs help and it needs plants. Native plants can be obtained from the Tilden Native nursery. And many other plant shops carry vegetable starter as well as seeds. Volunteers are asked to not make visitations to Spiral Gardens. There is now a boycott against Spiral Gardens, because Spiral Gardens is boycotting People’s Park. There are many other plant nurseries in the area. It would be appreciated if community members would donate plants to People’s Park, as long as plants do not come from the Spiral Gardens.
People’s Park is not accepting cash donations, as there are people associated with the account who will take the money. Hali Hammer has already fattened her wallet with Park money; there is no need to assist her further. People’s Park does not need cash; it need physical labor and donations of actual plants.
The UC and the city are playing hardball. They are resorting to heavy-handed tactics to pull people away from the Park. The UC and the city are making favors to ensure that people who previously supported the Park are now walking away from it.
Activists will continue on without the assistance of the Spiral Gardens. The owners of the Gardens have taken their stance, and have taken their deal with city government. Activists will continue on without a functioning website. It would be nice if peoplespark.org was part of the struggle, but the reality is otherwise. Activists will continue on without cash funds. Hali Hammer took the Park funds for personal gain, and now the money is gone. But gardening is not over.
People’s Park wishlist: peppers, tomatoes, chard, sticky monkey-flower, California sagebrush, various succulents, and any creative or interesting drought tolerant plant that will not become invasive. Please do not donate trees at this time, as they do get destroyed by the UC. There will be an organized tree planting event later this year, but for now, please donate other plants as they are more likely to survive. Also, People’s Park needs physical volunteer work: weeding, watering, trash-pickup, etc.
People’s Park will continue on, even as former activists and supports decide to step away for personal gain. The UC won a recent court battle regarding agricultural land in Albany. Former open space is being sold to become shops. This loss of open space makes People’s Park in Berkeley more important as a space for urban farming. Even as other major cities in the US embrace urban farming, in Berkeley growing food remains highly controversial and politically charged. There is a strong push-back against food activism, and urban gardeners have to work mush harder to maintain spaces for locally grown food in Berkeley. People have been fighting for the Park for 46 years; it doesn’t make much sense to stop fighting now just because it seems difficult. Berkeley still has a relatively mild climate, even as average temperatures rise and as the drought continues. Berkeley is a good place to grow food.