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Activists Celebrate Victory in Oaks Ruling

By Judith Scherr
Tuesday January 30, 2007

The Save-the-Oaks community celebrated victory Monday when Superior Court Judge Barbara Miller stopped the University of California from moving forward with its plans to chop down a grove of old oak trees and replace it with a training center for student athletes—atop what is quite possibly a fissure of an active earthquake fault. 

In addition to the three lawsuits targeting the university’s building projects—one by the California Oaks Foundation, another by the Panoramic Hill Neighborhood Association, whose members live adjacent to the proposed projects, and the third by the City of Berkeley—tree-sitters and their accompanying supporters brought pressure to bear on the university over the last two months.  

The effort gained national attention last week when former Mayor Shirley Dean, 71, City Councilmember Betty Olds, 86, and Save the Bay founder Sylvia McLaughlin, 90, were hoisted into the trees to underscore the community’s desire to protect the trees and to move the proposed training center to safer ground. 

“I am so gratified that so many care,” McLaughlin said Monday. “Saving the environment is an ongoing process.” 

The three women joined Save the Oaks attorney Stephan Volker, councilmember Dona Spring and the regular tree-sitters—including Redwood Mary and Zachary Running Wolf—and the community organizers at the grove midday Monday to host a celebratory press conference.  

“We thought we had an overwhelming case,” Volker said., explaining that the university regents had followed improper procedure by allowing a committee rather than the full body of regents to approve the environmental report that detailed impacts of the proposed university projects in its southwest quadrant that included the training facility, retrofitting and modifying Memorial Stadium, building a 912-car garage and more. 

Asked if the university could not go back and rectify the procedural error, Volker quipped: “You can’t correct the Hayward fault.” 

Perhaps the strongest argument the plaintiffs made against siting the new athletic training facility next to the stadium was that their experts say that a trace of the Hayward Fault likely runs beneath the area where the training facility is slated to be built. 

Volker pointed to UC Santa Cruz Emeritus Research Professor of Geology Robert Curry’s written opinion which says that the project is located “over recently active earthquake faults that present a rupture hazard. These faults are part of the system of fault traces commonly known as the Hayward Fault.”  

“The judge looked at that as one of the key factors” in her decision,” Volker said. 

In a conference call Monday afternoon aimed at responding to press questions about the court decision, UC Berkeley Vice Chancellor Nathan Brostrom disputed those findings, saying UC geologists have tested the area. “The High Performance Center is not on a fault,” he said. 

He went on to say that the delays could cost the university as much as 1 percent per month in rising construction costs. 

But earlier in the day, Volker had argued: “Human lives are more important than saving dollars.”  

While the community was celebrating at the oak grove, Mayor Tom Bates and City Attorney Manuela Albuquerque held a separate press briefing. (See related article for a full report on the city’s press conference) 

Like Volker, Albuquerque said safety concerns were the strongest aspect of the case: “The injunction struck an important blow for public safety by stopping this ill conceived and poorly studied project,” she said. 

“We hope the judge’s finding …will cause the university to reconsider its approach to these projects,” she said. “There is no reason why the university cannot comply with safety concerns and put the new facility in a seismically safe area.”  

Asked if the city were willing to settle with UC, Bates said he was open to discussion. 

Up at the oak grove, Berkeley resident and community organizer Doug Buckwald celebrated the decision, but was cautious at the same time: “This is one step in the process,” he said. “We have to be sure UC is listening.” 

Buckwald said the importance of the victory goes beyond the move to stop this project. “Courage is contagious,” he said. “These people in the trees have inspired people here and across the nation.” 

“The judge was really on top of it,” Dean commented, adding that the most important thing was “protecting the environment and making sure that people are safe.” 

Running Wolf and Redwood Mary both said they plan to stay and protect the trees. But UC’s Brostrom said the university would comply with the injunction and that the tree sitters should respect the law and leave.  

The university could appeal the injunction, it could settle with the plaintiffs out of court or it could go to trial, which is expected to be in three to six months.  



Photograph: Save the Oaks attorney Stephan Volker spoke to the media during a celebratory press conference Monday at the Memorial Stadium oak grove. Photo by Judith Scherr.