Public Comment

Commentary: UC Berkeley vs. the Local Community

By Redwood Mary
Tuesday December 04, 2007

EDITOR’S NOTE: This commentary was submitted to the San Francisco Chronicle but was not published. 


The taxpayer money spent on fighting against the community opposition to UC Berkeley’s proposed 142,000-square-foot, four-story Student Athlete High Performance Center (SAHP) to be located next to the west side of land marked California Memorial Stadium could have been spent on relocating the project away from Piedmont Avenue. Indeed, the SAHP that will be shared by 13 of the 27 Cal intercollegiate sports is needed and should be built, but on one of the two identified alternative sites and centered within an established transportation corridor that is more central to campus and not at the expense of destroying the Memorial Stadium oak grove that runs along Piedmont Avenue. This avenue between Gayley Road and Dwight Way was designated a City of Berkeley Landmark in 1990 and was also designated as California Historic Landmark No. 986 in 1989. 

UC is not only discounting its ever increasing sprawl impact upon the City of Berkeley’s historic landmarked neighborhoods, it seeks to continue its build-out plans on the hillside impacting Strawberry Canyon’s ecological integrity and the well-being of existing neighborhoods. Piedmont Avenue is not built to handle the current traffic congestion and it will not be able to absorb the increased traffic that this project will bring. 

UC Berkeley was a key partner on the drafting of the Urban Environmental Accords signed by mayors from around the globe who took the historic step of signing the Urban Environmental Accords in San Francisco on June 5, 2005 in recognition of United Nations World Environment Day 2005. 

The Urban Environmental Accords were a result of year-long partnership of cities, the International Council for Local Environmental Initiatives (ICLEI), the United Nations Environment Program, the University of California at Berkeley, environmental nonprofits, and businesses. 

The Accords focus on seven environmental areas common to all cities: water, energy, waste, urban design, transportation, urban nature, and environmental health. 

How can UC Berkeley claim to become a leader in the effort to increase energy production and reduce the impact of energy consumption on the environment while its own ecological footprint keeps increasing and encroaching on neighborhoods as well as adding to greenhouse gas emissions? Let’s not forget that their deal with BP is suspect when citizen stakeholder’s participation and academic oversight are eliminated. 

Un-sustainability is based on the idea that when resources are consumed faster than they are produced or renewed, the resource is impacted or depleted. When sustainability is practiced, the demand on nature is in balance with nature’s capacity to meet that demand. When demand on ecological resource or impacts exceed what nature can continually supply or adapt to we then have “ecological overshoot.” This Student Athlete High Performance Center is clearly an example of ecological overshoot, especially when placing the new additional athlete center at the edge of campus increases traffic, increases storm water and sewer services and maintenance of traffic infrastructure, as well as road wear due to the large scale construction. Then we have ongoing air-quality impacts by increased traffic and the destruction of an intact established oak grove ecosystem, tree canopy and wildlife corridor. This wildlife corridor can be seen from Google’s satellite map. This is all about adding sprawl impacts to the area. 

This project also undermines the City’s of Berkeley’s Measure G’s efforts to reduce greenhouse gasses and is compounding already existing impacts by the University’s ongoing expansion and placing more demand on our local city and ecosystem services. The University of California’s non-profit status exempts UC from paying toward a large portion of city services it uses—all at expense of local resident taxpayers who have no say on the impacts generated by UC’s new building projects.  

The Urban Environmental Accords included the goal of, “passing legislation that protects critical habitat corridors and other key habitat characteristics (e.g. water features food-bearing plants, shelter for wildlife, use of native species, etc.) from unsustainable development.” The City of Berkeley passed such a law in this category back in 1998.  

The City of Berkeley’s Oak Tree Removal Ordinance NO. 6462-N.S. declares a moratorium on the removal of any single stem Coast Live Oak tree or a circumference of 18 inches or more, and any multi-stemmed coast live oak tree with an aggregate circumference of 26 inches or more at a distance of four feet up from the ground within the City of Berkeley. The California Native Plant Society (CNPS) has stated that the Memorial Stadium oak grove is “an important gene bank for the coast live oak.” This grove, from the sub soil ecosystems to the canopy of its trees, harbors species that will not survive once disturbed. 

Every one of the 38 healthy threatened oaks (along with redwoods and other native California trees in the grove) should and could be protected from destruction under the Berkeley moratorium, but the university has indicated that because UC is part of state government, they are “not obliged to obey local environmental laws.” 

Memorial Stadium was designed with its grounds, including the oak grove, as a memorial to those Californians who lost their lives in World War I. The university should preserve not destroy the grove to honor the ultimate sacrifice made by those soldiers who died in WWI as was intended from the inception of the stadium and its surrounding grounds. 

The gulag style double fence topped with barbed wire erected by UC Berkeley and UC’s utilization of its heavy handed round the clock police instigation and agitation is an effort to undermine a First Amendment free speech protest. Now residents who visit the Grove or talk to the tree sitters are subject to arrest. 

This is something that happens in rigid and repressive police states where such controls are used to control the social, economic and political life of the population. These repressive measures are out of line and against a community stance to protect their historic and environmental resources especially with the backing of existing local law to protect these trees. 

UC Berkeley needs to do the right thing as in bring down the fences, honor the oak grove as a permanent historic and memorial site and build the Student Athlete High Performance Center in an alternative area and start honoring the fact that the citizens of Berkeley have a right to protect what they deem precious. And while they are at it spend the money not on police and fences and fighting the City of Berkeley and locals in court—get those 300-plus staff and faculty immediately out of the seismically unsafe Memorial Stadium offices and into safe portable structures until the separate Memorial Stadium issues are resolved. 


Redwood Mary is the founder and executive director of Circle The Earth — Grassroots Women Taking Action for a Sustainable Future (a project of the Agape Foundation,, and co-chair of the California Women’s Agenda Environmental Task Force. She holds a degree in public policy from Mills College and is a supporter of the Save the Oaks Campaign. She has spent time tree-sitting at the Memorial Stadium oak grove.