Home & Garden Columns
It will surprise no one, I’m sure, that the unofficial tree maven of the Berkeley Daily Planet is coming out against the clearcutting of a grove of senior live oaks in the city to make way for the construction of a yet another new University Sportspalast. I’ll even add that quite a few of the trees slated for destruction look sturdy enough to sit in. Oaks tend to be trustworthy to bear the weight of a human being.
Whether human beings can be trusted to live in a civilized manner alongside such beings is once again open to question. Veteran environmental writer Harold Gilliam expressed doubts on the currently ruling state of mind at UC Berkeley in an opinion piece in the Sunday, Oct. 8 San Francisco Chronicle. He wrote mostly about the tension between unfiltered market values and all other values, including the academic, pointing out in particular how the salaries of the university’s administrators are ten to 15 times those of the “bottom-tier”—that is, front-line—employees and double the average of the faculty’s salaries. Student tuition, meanwhile, has gone from zero (with only a $27 registration fee) in Gilliam’s time there to $30,000 for the four undergraduate years; students’ other costs—lodging, books, materials fees—have risen similarly.
What Californians could once regard as a birthright, an education from their tax-supported university system, has become the property of the wealthy, with bits allotted to those who could jump through the right hoops and/or go into debt for years. The money’s flowing faster than ever, but where?
Administrators are facilitators. Their job is to set things up and keep them running so that the avowed purposes of the university, education and research, can be done efficiently and well. UC Berkeley brags justly about its “tradition of Nobel prize winners,” and the school’s researchers do plenty of great work that doesn’t get gold-starred, and hooray for them.
Lately it does rather appear that a greater proportion of the research getting funds is stuff directly linked with high-profit corporate enterprise. The tangled connections between tax-funded academia and corporate profits have produced some comical situations, with patent suits and countersuits and intrigues finding their way into the news. The tangles themselves are great fun to trace if you have nothing better to do; the things that get disclosed obfuscate as much as they illuminate.
In the main, though, one suspects that this high-stakes—that is, high-profit—stuff is what these high-paid administrators are being paid so highly to facilitate. The purported academic traditions, all that excellence and enlightenment and pure science and sublime art that hallow the hallowed halls, not so much.
So, in a similar vein, UC’s profitable sports get overblown subsidies, and the intramural stuff gets a new facility thrown in. Is this a new library, a new field biology facility? No, we’ll pretend that Mens sana in corpore sano calls for lots of “character–building” team sports and bloated space and budgets for spectator sports, because that corpus isn’t sano enough unless it’s being watched by people in school colors, right? And we’ve learned not even to see anything that’s in the way of the bleachers unless it’s in a mascot costume.
What about those oaks?
Many are old—at least one is supposed to be 200 or so, and the younger set got planted in the early 1920s when the current stadium was built. Along with the senior trees are several younger ones and a few seedlings—the right configuration for the continuing life of a grove, young trees replacing their parents.
Before that stadium, what was there was a waterfall, probably at the point where Strawberry Creek ran over the Hayward Fault scarp, and a meadow that was a favorite picnicking and strolling spot for students and other citizens. The creek, in one of our local landscaping grotesqueries, now runs under the swimming pool and tennis courts as well as the stadium.
The oaks are in good shape, too, especially for city trees. UC consulted tree experts who pronounced most of them healthy and many of specimen quality; many also officially have high historic value. There is, wonder of wonders, a healthy old “California” peppertree on the fringe of the kill zone. The grove includes huge Atlas cedars, Hinoki cypress, redwoods, Western yew, and Port Orford cedar; those last two are California species in danger of extinction in the wild.
A 20-minute stroll through the grove, at noon in a slow season, revealed a pair of Nuttall’s woodpeckers, Steller’s and scrub jays, juncos, plain titmouse, chickadees, ruby-crowned kinglets, California towhees, vireos, and some warbler I never did identify—we hadn’t bothered to bring binoculars. A youth-gang of crows rumbled around and harassed the raven pair who happened through, a spectacular skydance that went on for ten minutes.
That’s just one short visit. No classroom could provide as much instruction.
The EIR for the project is available in the public library or online at www.cp.berkeley.edu—look for the “campus and community” info area. There’s a group trying to save the grove: SOS, at www.saveoaks.com. It includes UC students and Berkeley citizens and has support from the Sierra Club, the California Native Plant Society, and the likes of Julia Butterfly Hill. I’ll be following the story over the next few months.
Photograph by Ron Sullivan
These oaks, among other trees, are target for clearcutting to make way for UC Berkeley’s new stadium complex.