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UC Santa Cruz Protesters Climb Redwoods, UCB Bolsters Oak Grove Fence

By Richard Brenneman
Friday November 09, 2007
Workers construct the enlarged fence at the oak grove at UC Berkeley’s Memorial Stadium Thursday. by Doug Buckwald
Workers construct the enlarged fence at the oak grove at UC Berkeley’s Memorial Stadium Thursday. by Doug Buckwald

The fenced-in tree-sitters at UC Berkeley’s Memorial Stadium oak grove gained new allies Wednesday as their counterparts in Santa Cruz climbed redwoods while their allies were driven back by an onslaught of police clubs and pepper spray. 

Both protests target development plans of University of California, with the Santa Cruz tree-sitters challenging that campus’ Long Range Development Plan (LRDP). 

Meanwhile, UC Berkeley campus officials have literally raised the stakes at the stadium grove, installing most of a new, higher fence system designed to isolate Berkeley’s own protesters “prior to the removal of the tree-sitters,” said Charles R. Olson, a San Francisco attorney hired by the university. 

The tree-sitters are protesting the university’s plans to build a four-level, partly subterranean gym and office complex where the grove now stands. The gym is the first in a series of projects planned for the area. 

With a judicial ruling possible as early as Wednesday in a lawsuit challenging the university’s stadium area development plans, the campus is preparing for whatever comes next, said Dan Mogulof, executive director of the campus Office of Public Affairs. 

“Either we are ready to begin construction or the trees continue to be protected,” he said. 

In addition to the approach of a ruling by Alameda County Superior Court Judge Barbara J. Miller, the Cal Bears football season ends Saturday. 

Until after the game, the university will keep existing pathways open in the grove area and will continue to allow food and water to be brought to the protesters occupying trees in the grove, Mogulof said. 

“But if the people in the trees continue to disregard state law, a court order, a local ordinance and campus regulations, we need to secure the area and enforce the law,” said Mogulof. 

The order refers to a ruling by another county judge, Richard Keller, who issued a university-sought temporary restraining order that, if enforced, would end the tree sit. 

But Mogulof said that to his knowledge the university is not planning to forcibly extract the protesters from the trees. 

“Everything is being done to minimize the chances of injury” to police, students and tree-sitters, he said. 

Olson, in a letter to Judge Miller sent Wednesday, said, “In order to remove the tree sitters from the trees and dismantle their living structures and circulation devices without unnecessary risk to the protesters or university security personnel, [Campus Police] Chief [Victoria L.] Harrison believes it is essential to establish a security perimeter that is larger than the currently existing perimeter.” 

The attorney also included a copy of Judge Keller’s order. 

Just how removal would be effected without forcible removal wasn’t explained, and Mogulof wasn’t saying. 

While Olson’s letter said that none of current actions are “implementing the Southeast Campus Integrated Projects”—the complex of buildings now under challenge in Miller’s court—Doug Buckwald disagrees. 

A plaintiff in the suit now before Judge Miller, Buckwald said that the post holes being bored in the parking lot adjacent to International House Thursday afternoon have nothing to do with the tree sitters. 

“They are clearly putting up a construction fence,” said Buckwald. 


Santa Cruz  

Wednesday’s events in Santa Cruz began at 4 a.m. when a handful of tree-sitters climbed into a grove of redwood trees on “Science Hill” slated to be chopped down to make way for a new Biomedical Sciences building—the first stage of construction under the campus Long Range Development Plan (LRDP). 

Campus and city police arrived as supporters were sending food, water and warm clothing up to the tree-sitters, arresting several of the supporters, said Jennifer Charles, a UCSC grad who is helping to coordinate publicity and support for the protest. 

“The student have been planning this for a while,” said Grant Wilson, who has a part-time position with the university’s Arts and Lectures Program. 

The LRDP plan calls for clearing about 120 acres of forested land on campus, said Charles, along with increasing the campus population by 4,500. 

The square footage of campus buildings would double under the plan, which has inspired a lawsuit by citizens and by the city of Santa Cruz, who say the plan doesn’t address the severe impacts it imposes on water, sewers, traffic and other community resources. 

Seven hours after their first encounter with police, protesters staged an 11 a.m. rally at the center of the campus, then set off toward the grove, where they were met by police standing behind temporary fencing and barriers. 

Campus police from UC Berkeley were also on hand, for what quickly developed into a melee after protesters confronted police and pushed their way into the grove and began to send food, water and—in some cases—the sweaters off their backs up to the tree-sitters, Wilson said. 

“Some of the officers got out their batons and really started thumping,” he said. “The students had nowhere to go and they were jammed up so close together they couldn’t even fall down. Other police actually pulled one policeman back because he was pretty liberal in the use of his baton.” 

Officers also used blasts of pepper spray, catching reporters as well as protesters, Wilson said. 

But in the end, the police relented, despite the arrival of another squad of officers in riot gear. 

“By that time there were more people showing up, so I think they realized that with that many students and community people there, it probably wouldn’t be good to come on so heavy-handed,” Wilson said. 

By the time the pepper spray had cleared, the students and their allies were in possession of the grove, with police standing by. 

Though one Berkeley officer was reportedly injured in the melee, campus police spokesperson and Assistant Chief Mitch Celaya did not return a call asking for confirmation. 

In a joint statement, UCSC Chancellor George Blumenthal and Campus Provost David Kliger condemned what they dubbed “a ‘dangerous’ demonstration.” 

In a move reminiscent of critics of the civil rights protests of as half-century ago, the administrators also placed some of the blame on outside agitators. 

“The incidents, which occurred on two parking lots proposed for the Biomedical Sciences Facility, involved a number of individuals not affiliated with the campus, including five people who scaled trees early in the morning on the site. 

“Instead of the constructive expression of speech through a nonviolent demonstration, the protest morphed into a dangerous example of inappropriate and in some cases illegal behavior.” 

Wilson said the tree-sitters, who appeared in masks in videos of the event, are reluctant to reveal their identities. 

But the protesters themselves were mainly students, joined by townspeople, Wilson and Charles said. Videos of the events show that most of those at the grove appear to be students.