Stadium Grove Tree-Sitters Set for First Anniversary

By Richard Brenneman
Friday November 30, 2007

Berkeley’s tree-sitters and their supporters are getting ready for Sunday’s celebration that will mark the end of the first year of a colorful campus protest. 

The events—slated for 2 to 6 p.m.—come as university officials have announced their plans to cut branches used to provide food, water and other supplies to the arboreal activists. 

“We’ve been getting a lot of interest from the press,” said Doug Buckwald, organizer of Save the Oaks at the Stadium and a plaintiff in the litigation challenging the university’s plans for a grove of California Live Oaks along the western wall of Memorial Stadium. 

“We want everybody to come out,” said Zachary Running Wolf, who started the protest by ascending the trunk of a redwood at the grove on the morning of last year’s Big Game day. 

Running Wolf has been arrested nine times in the intervening months.  

Campus police have been making frequent arrests of tree-sitters and their supporters, racking up five on Thanksgiving day. 

The university has erected two fences around the grove, adding a layer of barbed wire at the top after protesters repeatedly scaled the fence. 

Meanwhile, Alameda County Superior Court Judge Barbara J. Miller has been deliberating on the legal challenges filed by the city, two environmental groups, the Panoramic Hill Association and an assortment of other plaintiffs, including City Councilmember Dona Spring. 

Councilmember Betty Olds, environmentalist Sylvia McLaughlin and former Mayor Shirley Dean even took their own brief turn in the trees earlier this year, attracting attention from the New York Times and other national media. 

But the student turnout has been small at the Berkeley campus site where the university plans to build a $120 million high -tech gym and office complex. 

In Santa Cruz, a tree-sit launched Nov. 8 has succeeded in attracting larger numbers of students, who are protesting that campus’s Long Range Development Plan and its call for significant increases in students and buildings. 

Word of the university’s intent to cut branches on the edges of the grove surfaced last week, and formal confirmation came in an e-mail sent Monday from the office of the general counsel of the UC Board of Regents. 

The notice, sent by attorney Kelly Drumm, said the decision is “based solely on an assessment of security needs” by UC Berkeley Police Chief Victoria L. Harrison. 

Attorneys Stephan Volker and Michael Lozeau had asked that university officials consult with them before any action was taken, but in the e-mail Drumm said that the chief “believes that discussion of potential police actions in advance of those actions could compromise the effectiveness of those actions and exacerbate an already dangerous situation.” 

City Councilmember Gordon Wozniak met with university officials last week to raise concerns of his constituents that the tree-trimming operations could adversely impact the landmarked Gayley Way streetscape. The street was designed by landscape architect Frederick Law Olmsted, whose best-known creation is New York City’s Central Park. 

The Student Athlete High Performance Center planned for the western rim of the stadium is one of several projects in what the university calls the Southeast Campus Integrated Projects. 

The legal action now pending in Judge Miller’s court alleges that the environmental documents the regents approved for the gym complex aren’t legally adequate. Another aspect of the challenge centers on alleged violation of the Alquist-Priolo Act, which governs construction on or adjacent to earthquake faults. 

The Hayward Fault, which state and federal geologists have judged the likely source of the Bay Area’s next major earthquake, splits the stadium from end to end. 

Running Wolf said he is challenging the project because he believes the stadium is the site of a Native American burial ground.