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Tree-in Raid Fails to Chill Oaks Activists’ Protest Efforts

By Richard Brenneman
Tuesday January 16, 2007

Less than a day after an Oakland judge refused to order the eviction of protesters at the Memorial Stadium tree-in, UC Berkeley police staged a pre-dawn raid Friday, evicting supporters of the tree-dwellers and leveling their encampment. 

There were no arrests. 

“We’re trying to restore the area back to its natural state,” declared Mitch Celaya, assistant chief of campus police. There was no hint of irony in his voice or expression. 

Shortly after 6 a.m., Celaya said, “about 10” uniformed officers arrived. “It’s a public safety issue,” he said. “We’re trying to get things back to normal before students return.” 

The officers were reinforced by two front-end loaders, a stake-bed truck, a dump truck and a contingent of campus building and grounds workers. 

Giving the protesters less than three minutes to evacuate, officers surrounded the heart of the grove with yellow crime scene tape while the protesters made frantic calls to supporters, who began to gather as the officers set to work. 

As grounds crew workers in yellow vests gathered up scattered belongings and demolished shelters which had housed the volunteers who were helping the six protesters camped out in the branches overhead, the growing crowd of demonstrators briefly broke into a chant:  

“Thieves! Thieves! Thieves in the Night. 

“The trees aren’t going down without a fight.” 

Another supporter called out, “Hang in there, tree people.” 

One passer-by was less supportive, muttering a sotto voce, “Get out of the trees, guys. Oak trees are everywhere in California.” 

At least six volunteers were camped out on the ground when the police staged their predawn raid, including Richard Goodreau, who was asleep under a plastic tarp and missed by the officers on their initial search. 

“I heard yelling and I peeked out, and they had already driven everybody else out. So I gathered all my stuff and quietly stuffed my sleeping bag into my pack and ran down the hill,” he said. 

Others weren’t so lucky, including one volunteer who lost a personal computer and another who said he lost prescription medications. 

An officer told them their possessions could be reclaimed later after they’d been booked into evidence—as long as they could prove they owned them. 

Celaya said the material was being taken into evidence, but the material wasn’t tagged or marked as is usually the case at crime scenes, nor was any effort made to keep items separate—typical measures to prove the chain of custody critical before material can be admitted into evidence in court cases. 

The raid came on the year’s coldest morning to date and on the last day of the sixth week since former mayoral candidate Zachary Running Wolf began the protest by climbing into the branches of a redwood before dawn on Big Game Saturday. 

After sitting out a seven-day stay-away order Running Wolf was back in the redwood Friday—the day after a judge refused to give campus attorneys permission to chop it down. 

Doug Buckwald, who is coordinating support for the protesters, said that as a result of increasing police action, “we can no longer be open about the names of people in the trees, because the police are using the information to entrap and cite people.” 

Police maintained a heavy presence at the scene on the day of the raid, forcing protesters to leave about 20 of their number behind while another 40 or so marched on California Hall, where UC Berkeley Chancellor Robert Birgeneau has his offices. 

”We knew he wasn’t in the building, because someone had seen him leave minutes earlier, and he kept looking over his shoulder as he walked across campus,” Buckwald said. 

Acting on a report that he’d headed to the Faculty Club, protesters followed, only to be met by an unsmiling contingent of police blocking each access to the building. 

Meanwhile, he said, supporters continue to bring food and more warm clothing for the trees-sitters, as well as a batch of still warm home-baked bread that arrived Monday morning. 

The tree-in is being staged to protest university plans to chop down a grove of California Live Oaks, the redwood and other trees to make way for a four-story, $125 million gym complex along the stadium’s western wall. 

Four lawsuits have been filed by the city and private organizations challenging university development plans in the area, and another suit is being planned—this one alleging civil rights violations in the Friday morning raid, said Buckwald. 

The action came a day after an Alameda County Superior Court Presiding Judge George Hernandez had ordered the suits transferred to Judge Barbara Miller in the court’s Hayward Branch.  

It was Hernandez who rejected the university’s plea to order the protesters and tree-sitters out of the grove and to allow campus authorities to fence off the trees they plan to ax to make way for a $125 million gym complex along the western wall of the landmarked Memorial Stadium. 

The university also failed to win approval of a call for bids for felling the trees. 

That denial came during a hearing on lawsuits filed by the City of Berkeley, the Panoramic Hill Association and the California Oaks Foundation who are challenging the university’s approval of massive expansion plans around the stadium. 

Those actions and a fourth suit filed by advocates of Tightwad Hill, the slope above the stadium where for decades ardent fans have gathered to celebrate and watch Cal Bears games for free, have now been consolidated into the single case that will be heard by Judge Miller Jan. 24.