Public Comment

Commentary: ‘A Disaster Waiting to Happen’

By Ronald H. Berman
Tuesday January 16, 2007

Yesterday, Jan. 12, 2007, will long be remembered as one of the most ignominious days in the history of UC Berkeley politics. The day after the county court refused to immediately allow the university to send in the chain saws, exactly 40 days after the tree sitters began their protest, and on one of the coldest days of the year with freeze warnings and weather forecast for record or near record cold lows in the 20s and 30s for the coming night, the UCB administration sent in their own police force to remove the ground support for the Memorial Oak Grove tree sitters. 

The ground support was neatly housed under a blue tarp below the trees and provided such amenities as communication, food and even hot coffee, the latter much welcomed by those spending the night on a small wooden platform some 50 feet up in a tree, protected by only their own small tarp and a sleeping bag, amid temperatures plunging as low as the 20s. These brave and deeply committed individuals are trying to preserve the last grove of specimen native live oak trees in the Berkeley flatlands, and they deserve our support. There are many reasons why this magnificent grove of oak and redwood trees should be preserved. 

1. Both the Sierra Club and the California Native Plant Society (CNPS) support their preservation. CNPS states that “this site is of great value as a gene bank for the Coast Live Oak,” and because of the habitat that such groves provide for various plant, animal, bird and insect life, considers such groves “ecologically significant,” and an “invaluable venue for environmental education.” 

2. A recent series of temblors of magnitude up to 3.7 on the Richter scale reminds us that the Hayward fault is alive and well. The oak grove is literally a stone’s throw from the California Memorial Stadium which overlies the Hayward fault. Although a football stadium would never be built today over the California fault considered by geologists to be the bay area fault most likely to create the next major destructive earthquake over the next 29 years (30 percent probability), the chance of injury is mitigated by the fact that only six home games are played in the stadium each year. 

Not so for the proposed 125 million dollar Student Athlete Training Center which will be used by many students and staff on a daily basis. Berkeley Deputy Fire Chief David P. Orth called the stadium project “a disaster waiting to happen.” There are also questions concerning the legality of this project as it may be in violation of the Alquist-Priolo Act limiting construction of large projects within 50 feet of a fault line. 

3. The stadium was dedicated in November 1923 in honor of the UC students and to all Californians who gave their lives in the service of our country in World War 1. On the day of the stadium’s dedication, UC Comptroller Robert Sproul, who later became UC President, declared: “Deep rooted in the eternal hills, this memorial to the honored dead, here devoted to the service of the living, raises its noble crown into the clear California sky and stands in simple dignity, beauty and strength.” 

Those of you who have visited the Memorial Oak Grove know that these trees likewise “raise their noble crowns in the clear California sky and stand in simple dignity, beauty and strength.”  

Most of these trees were planted in 1923 in the year of the stadium’s dedication and although not specifically cited by Sproul during the dedication ceremony, I like to think that the stadium architect and the landscape architect complemented each other in creating a memorial to the fallen California servicemen, the one creating an architectural gem modeled after the Coliseum in Rome, the other planting a living memorial of California live oak trees. 

For the past 83 years this grove of trees has been enhancing our environment by providing us with fresh oxygen, badly needed in an urban environment, has provided a place of solace for UC students and others, and has made the stadium even more magnificent by standing by its side in its own simple unadorned beauty. It would be a shame and a desecration of this memorial to destroy these hallowed trees so that more concrete can be poured into the earth. 



Ronald H. Berman is a Berkeley resident.