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Berkeley’s homeless headache

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By Michelle Malkin  •  June 26, 2007 12:03 PM

Via SFGATE…The People’s Republic of Berkeley tip-toes around its homeless problem, hoping for a peaceful coexistence while planning development in the sacred homeless haven called “The People’s Park:”

People’s Park is a social puzzle that has defied nearly 40 years of attempts by UC Berkeley to solve it, largely because the university and many neighbors see it as a problem but the park’s most loyal users treasure it as one of the city’s most vibrant open spaces.

Now the university as owner of the land is trying a new approach, using a consulting firm to patiently confer with park lovers and shunners in hopes of reaching a consensus on the park’s future.

The work is as much therapy as planning — that’s how deep the divisions run over a nearly 3-acre urban rectangle that embodies Berkeley’s role in the anti-war and free speech movements of the 1960s and ’70s.

“This could easily turn into a war,” longtime park neighbor Joseph Stubbs said.

So far it hasn’t, and flickers of consensus can be seen following meetings with more than 40 small groups.

There’s even been talk of adding features like outdoor movies, live theater and a dog run, and linking the park to possible new attractions on nearby Telegraph Avenue, such as a history cafe, a historic district and a museum.

Moderated by a consultant, MK Think of San Francisco, larger public meetings are being scheduled for July through fall, when classes start on campus, in hopes that agreement will develop on new ideas for the park.

Irene Hegarty, UC Berkeley’s director of community relations, said the intention is to attract new ideas for the park, not to remove the homeless. “We expect it is an urban park and there will be homeless using it,” she said.

The characters of Berkeley seem skeptical:

Those with an emotional link to the park run the gamut from the free spirits who vow to lie down naked to block change to neighboring homeowners who are disgusted by the homeless camp that is the park’s most obvious feature, won’t set foot in it and feel intimidated by the activists who sanctify it as a radical shrine.

“It’s intense,” said Hate, formerly know as Hate Man, a longtime Berkeley “outdoor person” and park regular. “There’s a lot of energy on both sides.”

Somehow, I don’t think this is going to work out.

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