“I’m free at last,” said Zachary Running Wolf, after his release from jail last Wednesday following his Feb. 23 arrest by UC Berkeley Police on a charge of threatening a peace officer.
Running Wolf sparked the ongoing protest in the grove west of the university’s Memorial Stadium, which helped draw the eyes of national news media to challenges to the school’s massive building plans at the landmarked site.
The tree-in began before dawn on the morning of the Big Game, Dec. 2, when Running Wolf scaled a stately redwood and took up residence high in the branches, with other protesters finding perches in nearby oaks.
The university plans to level most of the trees to make room for a $125 million, four-story gym featuring the latest high-tech devices for enhancing the speed and agility of members of the university’s sports teams, with the football squad heading the list.
University fundraisers have already collected $100 million of the needed funds, and Athletic Director Sandy Barbour recently emailed donors that the university would prevail against lawsuits now challenging the Student Athlete High Performance Center and other projects in the stadium environs.
While neighborhood activists and city officials targeted the project largely on the grounds of impacts on nearby streets and views, Running Wolf and his fellow arboreal activists have drawn media attention to the trees.
When John English, a retired planner and a preservation activist, filed initiatives to have the stadium declared a city landmark and an official entry on the National Register of Historic Places, university officials had no objection to listing the stadium, but asked that his inclusion of the surrounding grounds be cut back.
English said Thursday that he had cited the trees in the applications because they play a significant role at the landmark site, helping both to soften the impact of the massive stadium and to highlight the landscape of Piedmont/Gayley Way, itself a city landmark designed by Frederick Law Olmsted, designer of New York’s Central Park and the founder of modern American landscape architecture.
The City Council nearly complied with the university’s request to ax the grove from the landmark filing, then drew back when members realized that their action would effectively remove the stadium’s landmark status during the critical period when the city was itself challenging the university’s Environmental Impact Report encompassing the stadium, the gym and a planned nearby underground parking garage.
Running Wolf said he is scheduled for arraignment on two charges next Thursday: the accusation that he threatened a police officer and for vandalizing stop signs.
An environmental activist, he was arrested in possession of spray paints and a stencil with cutout letters spelling out DRIVING.
Many stop signs in Berkeley and Oakland have had that word sprayed beneath the larger letters reading STOP, and a miniature stop sign similarly ornamented was among the items confiscated during one of the two police raids at the grove last week.
Running Wolf, who denied making a specific threat to officers who arrested him, said he believes he was charged “because they’re trying to knock me out of the mayor’s race.” He said he plans to challenge Mayor Tom Bates again when the incumbent’s term ends in two years.
He said he was released after Karen Pickett of Copwatch found a sponsor willing to post the $2,000 cash deposit needed to make his $20,000 bail.
Meanwhile, campus police were back out in force at the grove Thursday morning, gathering up the few items protesters had on the ground, “a couple of cardboard signs, some orange peels and some bits of rope,” said Doug Buckwald, who has been organizing support for the tree-sitters.
Buckwald spent part of the afternoon at another protest on campus, the student-led demonstration outside California Hall protesting the $500 million alternative energy accord between the former British Petroleum, the university, Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory and the University of Illinois.
Two 19-year-old UC Berkeley students were arrested at that demonstration, Nathan Murthy and Ali B. Tonak.
Each was charged with trespassing on campus property with the intent to damage or obstruct after they dumped molasses in front of California Hall, where Chancellor Robert Birgenau has his offices.
After booking at Berkeley City Jail, both students were released pending court appearances.