With a major courtroom victory in hand, Berkeley protesters aren’t giving up their arboreal perches high in a threatened grove adjacent to UC Berkeley’s Memorial Stadium.
“We’re here to stay,” said Zachary Running Wolf, the former mayoral candidate who launched the tree-in during the pre-dawn hours of Big Game Saturday, Dec. 2.
Protesters had a brief but strained encounter with campus police Wednesday morning after a group of eight officers, including one detective, arrived at the scene along with a contingent of university groundskeepers and the equipment needed to take down platforms.
But supporters of the tree-sit had already complied with the university’s key demand the day before, removing the tarps, cooking gear and sleeping equipment they’d been asked to clear out earlier.
“It was tense for awhile until we started calling the media,” said Running Wolf.
Officers briefly wrapped crime scene tapes around the trees occupied by the sitters as they removed one unoccupied platform, the site of a high profile Jan. 22 sit-in by 90-year-old environmentalist Sylvia McLaughlin, 84-year-old Berkeley City Councilmember Betty Olds and former Mayor Shirley Dean, 71.
“That just means we’ll have to put up another one,” said Michael Kelly, vice president of the Panoramic Hill Association, one of the groups which successfully sought a preliminary injunction that has halted for at least a year the university’s ambitious plans to add more than $330 million in new, donor-financed construction at and near the landmarked stadium.
The new platform offered the public a chance to join the tree-sitters for 30- to 60-minute increments starting at 10 a.m. Thursday and continuing until 9 a.m. today (Friday).
“Our membership supports the tree-sitters staying as long as it takes to save the trees,” said Doug Buckwald, who has been coordinating ground support for the protest.
While protesters say they fear the university plans to throw up a fence to keep them out of the grove, UC Police Lt. Mitch Celaya said no such action is planned—at least for now.
“Enough is enough. We have told them they are trespassing and they need to leave. The ball’s in their court, and if they don’t leave, then we need to look at our options,” Celaya said.
“We prefer not to fence, and at the moment we don’t plan to, but it’s clearly an option,” he said. “The police department has a duty to maintain university property and to prevent trespassing.”
The threat of an immediate chainsaw attack on the grove has been removed for the moment, at least until an Alameda County Superior Court judge can conduct a full-scale hearing on the issue several months hence.
Jurist Barbara J. Miller has reaffirmed her preliminary injunction in an action brought by critics of the university’s plans to build a costly four-story high-tech gym at the site of the grove.
Her rulings have forced at least a year’s delay in the project, one that university officials say will cost them between $8 million and $10 million as the prices of concrete, steel and other construction materials continues to soar in the face of China’s ongoing economic boom.
But the judge ruled that the university’s economic claims were outweighed by the plaintiffs’, who “have made a sufficiently strong showing of likelihood of success on their claims under the Alquist-Priolo Earthquake Fault Zoning Act and the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA)” to merit a preliminary injunction.
The ruling halted all further development on a collection of building plans dubbed the Southeast Campus Integrated Projects, or SCIP.
• a 911-space mostly underground parking lot northwest of the stadium;
• changes to the landmarked Gayley Road streetscape;
• construction of a new Connection Building bridging functions and offices of the university’s law and business schools; and
• a major seismic upgrade of Memorial Stadium, where the interior would be gutted, new seats added and two levels erected above the western rim, including luxury sky boxes for deep-pocket donors and a new level to accommodate the media and their cameras.