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UC’s Plans to Remove Trees from People’s Park Raise Concerns

By Riya Bhattacharjee
Friday July 21, 2006

Users of People’s Park met with UC Berkeley officials on Thursday for a park walk-through and discussion of some upcoming projects. 

The park’s users made it clear to university officials that attempts to cut down trees, clear undergrowth, and trim shrubbery in an effort to clean the university-owned park to curb crime needed to be done with community input. 

They reminded the officials about the 2003 Canopy Agreement, according to which the university agreed to work with the People’s Park Community Advisory Board Members on such matters as retaining any removed trees as chips, logs, and rounds and to educate and discuss with the public prior to removing trees at the park. 

Irene Hegarty, Director of the UC Berkeley Office of Community Relations, said that such discussion and retaining felled trees as chips, logs, and rounds in the park would be given careful consideration.  

Hegarty gave the guided tour along with Kate Bolton, assistant landscape architect, and Phil Cody, a UC Berkeley arborist.  

Hegarty highlighted the importance of keeping the park from becoming a haven for drug dealers, pointing out the dense undergrowth and shrubbery where such activities are thought to take place. A thousand hypodermic needles were found on the park’s premises in the last eight months, she said. 

People’s Park Community Advisory Board members, however, were not entirely convinced that clearing trees was the only way to check the drug problem. Board member Joe Halperin said that a lot of other steps needed to be carried out to control it. 

“It’s important to clean the place up because we don‘t want our kids or our pets to step on hypodermic needles,” he said. “Although at the moment I am not talking about removing a single tree, I think we should go ahead with sophisticated pruning. There is not a whole lot of continued maintenance of the park. We should look at the underbrush and see how we can clean it up. A sustainable ecological approach needs to be taken. Cutting down trees is not the approach to curb drug use.”  

Board member Lydia Gans said that the first step would be to draft a policy and forward it to university officials so that the process could go forward keeping everybody’s best interests in mind. 

During the walk-through along the east end of the park, Hegarty, along with Cody, pointed out several redwood trees which needed to be removed to avoid competition for space and sunlight. There was also talk of removing the acacia trees which were facing problems from co-dominant stem weightage. 

The east end of the park is home to community gardeners and according to Hegarty will be spruced and trimmed for a cleaner look. 

“This is the area where we have the majority of the drug dealing problems,” she said. “In the past shrubbery in this area has been vandalized and uprooted. A vegetation management system and a place to put all the green debris would certainly help.”  

Cody and Bolton both said that the exact proportion of how much vegetation needed to be cleared off from the park would be available after a careful assessment. 

“We are not doing this with the intention of murdering or cutting down any trees,” Bolton said. “Every tree will be given careful consideration.” 

Berkeley naturalist Terri Compost said that the addition-remove ratio should be kept in mind while carrying out the changes. 

“The park has its problems, but it also has beauty,” she said. “We like the patches of wilderness; it’s what makes the place so unique. I am mostly concerned about the fruit trees, the oaks. It’s very important not to have surprises in the park. There is a little story behind every tree and I want anything that gets cut in the park to remain in the park. People smoke dope behind buildings all the time, nobody talks about taking them down.” 

Greg Jalbert, a community gardener, stressed on the importance of making the park better overall. 

“The important question is how can we make the park better not just by cutting but by adding,” he said. “Before you haul off a tree, talk to us about it. As for the drug problem, why not have a needle exchange place set up at the park? We need to get to the source of the problem and solve it.” 

Caitlin Berliner, a UC student representative on the advisory board, stressed the importance of communication when it came to maintaining the park. “If a proper work day is declared then a lot of students would come forward to help clean up the park and even start gardening there. Fundraising is also a big possibility.” she said. 

George Beier, board member, suggested that given the current troubles on Telegraph Avenue with business closures and homeless, remodeling People’s Park would help encourage more pedestrian traffic in the area. 

“If students and neighbors feel comfortable walking through the park, Telegraph Avenue would be a lot better off,” he said. “We need to make more people use the park, make it more accessible.” 

Community Gardeners meet Sundays 1-4 p.m. in the west end of the Community Garden in People’s Park.