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Dean, Olds, McLaughlin Join Campus Tree Protest

By Richard Brenneman
Tuesday January 23, 2007

Three of the most prominent names in Berkeley politics ascended to an oak-borne platform Monday to put their bodies on the line in defense of a campus grove.  

Sylvia McLaughlin, 90, was joined by City Councilmember Betty Olds, 86, and former Mayor Shirley Dean, 71, in a specially constructed platform in an oak near UC Berkeley’s Memorial Stadium. 

The tree, along with many other coastal live oaks and other species, may be cut down to make way for a $125 million gym demanded by Cal Bears football coach Jeff Tedford as part of his contract with the university. 

“I’m a little nervous,” Dean told reporters before ascending a ladder to the plywood platform, “but between us we’ve got almost 250 years of experience.” 

Asked if she was prepared to be arrested, McLaughlin answered, “Of course.” 

Olds smiled at the question. “The university has done a lot of stupid things, but I certainly don’t think they’re going to arrest the founder of Save the Bay (McLaughlin), the former mayor and a councilmember.” 

All three bravely ascended a ladder brought in for their use, rather than strapping into the rope harnesses used by the activists in the higher branches. 

Once they’d taken their places in the triangular platform secured by nylon climbing ropes, the women smiled at reporters. 

Campus police, who are often present with video cameras and taking down names, were nowhere in sight as a throng of media types, armed with television and still cameras, tape recorders and notebooks, took it all in. 

How long would the protesters remain? 

“Until the bathroom calls,” said Olds, adding, “None of us drank anything this morning with that in mind.” 

Under the terms of his new contract with the university, approved by the regents last week, Tedford will get a bonus if the four-story high tech gym and office complex is built. 

Meanwhile, Alameda County Superior Court Judge Barbara Miller is scheduled to hold a 10 a.m. hearing this morning (Tuesday) and motions by the City of Berkeley, the Panoramic Hill Association and the California Oaks Foundation. 

All want the court to issue a preliminary injunction barring the university from taking any further steps to develop the site pending a hearing on the merits of lawsuits filed by the groups. 

The three plaintiffs plus advocates of Tightwad Hill have charged that the university’s environmental impact report on the project violates the provisions of the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA). 

The protest at the grove began Dec. 2 when former Berkeley mayoral candidate Zachary Running Wolf and two other activists ascended separate trees on the morning of the Big Game against Stanford. 

Despite citations, arrests, and a Dec. 12 police action that swept away supplies and shelters used by ground volunteers supporting the tree-in, the activists have persevered. 

Juliet Lamont, a Sierra Club activist and a member of the Downtown Area Plan Advisory Committee, hailed the protest. “What an incredible thing,” she said. “What an incredible statement to come out here and show the public their support.” 

Lamont said the Sierra Club opposes removal of the grove, and urges the university to find another location for the facility, “somewhere that’s safe for the students and not 20 feet from the Hayward Fault.” 

The seismic fissure runs directly beneath Memorial Stadium, and tests are underway to see how close it comes to the site of the 132,500-square-foot Barclay Simpson Student Athlete High Performance Center, as the gym complex is known. 

Doug Buckwald, ground support coordinator for the half-dozen activists encamped in the branches, hailed “these wonderful, brave women” for their commitment to the cause. 

A weekend rally at the grove held to coincide with the return of students after the winter break brought out an estimated 150 supporters, including Ignacio Chapela, a long-time critic of the university’s corporate ties who had to sue the school to hold onto his job. 

Chapela told supporters that the grove provided a critical pathway for native wildlife, which would face serious ecological consequences should the grove be destroyed.