Zen, 4th Street, Underhill Parking Lots, and the Art of Car Smashing

Parking, or more accurately the campaign to stop more parking from being built, is increasingly becoming the focus of efforts to save the planet, cities and people everywhere from auto strangulation. And this isn’t the erotic kind.

As traffic congestion reaches a breaking point, trouble finding parking us one of the chief headaches for drivers. The reaction from business and government: build more parking to “solve” the problem. Unfortunately, more parking doesn’t solve the problem-it only paves the way for even more driving, more auto dependence, and requires the construction of still more parking.

In Berkeley, two struggles over parking are heating up: Mayor Shirley Dean’s plan to subsidize a privately owned parking structure for the 4th Street shopping district and the University’s plan to build 1,400 parking spaces on a lot 3 blocks from campus that could (and should!) be used for housing. The 4th Street garage is an obvious attempt to give “corporate welfare” on a local scale. 4th Street is an expensive, yuppie shopping district mostly owned by West Berkeley developer Denny Abrams, who made millions from the trendy shops and bistros in the once industrial district. The proposed parking garage, seeking $2-$3 million in city funding, is claimed to be necessary so 4th Street can compete with big box stores in Emeryville which are surrounded by acres of parking. The first attempt to fund the garage was recently defeated, but Mayor Dean is expected to keep trying.

The university parking plans center around the Underhill block, a huge parking pit jus NE of People’s Park. UC Berkeley wants to build a parking megastructure for 1,000 cars on a block directly between two blocks already containing dorms. Each dorm houses 1,000 students. This begs the question of why the university would rather build 1,000 parking space for people to drive to campus than 1,000 units of housing so people could live and walk 3 blocks to campus.

The project would mean big traffic increases right next to the main bus corridor on College Avenue (which is already congested) and on two proposed bicycle boulevards. With the gutting of rent control statewide, rents have already skyrocketing 40% this year. UC Berkeley’s own documents admit that the housing shortage for students hurts diversity (on top of the gutting of affirmative action).

Enter Rick Young, a UC law student, Rick formed PALPFLHUB (People Against Lots of Parking and For Lots of Housing on the Underhill Block) and used the University’s own documents to show that the university as lying about the “need” for parking: rather than losing 1,000 spaces in recent years as they claimed, they only lost about 50 spaces.

Rick realized it was time for direct action. He started an encampment at Underhill, demanding negotiations with the Chancellor on 5 demands. Rick stayed in the lot for three weeks, garnering lots of local media attention on the issue of land use. The Chancellor was clearly waiting him out, hoping the students would leave and Rick would go away. We declared it Palpflubia and seceded.

Meanwhile, a lot of excitement was generated for the possibilities of the ongoing campaign. “Let’s turn this into an ecological demonstration project! How can we best use the underutilized spaces?” One person wanted a goat herd. One person wanted to plant trees. Others wanted solar panels. I wanted windmills towering up from the vacant triangles.

To up the pressure Rick found a junkyard car and arranged for it to be delivered at the lot-where it was eagerly smashed to bits by loads of students and wingnuts, delighted for the break from finals. Early next morning, he was arrested along with all his possessions (and all of his friends’!) including his couches. HE got out and was rearrested twice more before he was banned from the lot by Court Order.

With Rick banned from the lot and the students gone, the campaign went into a whole new phase. To build community and fun raise, every Saturday night at 9 PM people descend on the pit with couches and carpets and treats to turn the lot into a living room and watch “cheezie Americana fliks and cool politico shorts”, all brought by bike cart, electricity powered by a boat battery.

Come fall, Underhill could very well turn into a tent city as students, angry because they cannot find a place to live, join the protest of subsidized environmental destruction for the wealthy at the expense of housing, diversity and mother earth.

For more information about Rick’s campaign check out www.geocities.com/rickisyoung/ or call him at (510) 666-8464. For more information about the Bike-In Movie Night, call (510) CREW-CUT (273-9288).