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City Refuses to Weigh In on Tree-Sitter Safety

By Judith Scherr
Thursday June 26, 2008 - 09:22:00 AM

The most notable event at the Tuesday night/Wednesday morning City Council meeting was what did not happen: The council scheduled the issue of the health and safety of the tree sitters as an emergency item, then refused to extend the meeting late enough to discuss and vote on the matter. 

With the council chambers filled with dozens of supporters of those refusing to leave the trees in Memorial Grove on campus, where the university wants to build a sports training facility adjacent to Memorial Stadium, which is traversed by the Hayward Fault, the council took up the question of whether it could legally address the issue without proper notice to the public. 

After a limited number of speakers from the audience—including a woman who calls herself “BP Bear” and who delivered a cardboard “backbone” to Mayor Tom Bates to encourage him and the council to stand up to the university—Councilmember Kriss Worthington took a call from a tree sitter in the grove and told the council: “Based on the testimony I heard on the telephone from the tree sitters, they have indicated that it is truly an emergency situation. They said their lives are in danger.” 

The statement was intended to establish the basis for adding the emergency measure to the agenda. 

The council called on emergency room physician Dr. Larry A. Bedard, in the audience, who had spoken with the tree sitters over the weekend. Bedard testified to the tree sitters’ need for “gallons of Gatorade” and close monitoring by a physician. 

In the end, a council majority—councilmembers Linda Maio, Darryl Moore, Max Anderson, Dona Spring and Kriss Worthington—voted to place the item on the agenda. It was to come up after lengthy discussions on other complex city issues, including the budget. 

And so the question of the tree-sit came to the council at about 12:15 a.m., by which time councilmembers Laurie Capitelli and Betty Olds had gone home. After 11 p.m., the council must extend the meeting by majority vote, which it had been doing in 15- and 30-minute intervals. When the tree-sit question came up, the meeting had been extended to 12:30 a.m. 

Supporters spoke for around 10 minutes calling on the city to confront university officials to get them to allow supporters to give tree sitters food and water and to remove the barricades from city-owned streets and sidewalks. (The university claims Memorial Grove is a crime scene and therefore it has the right to block city-owned property.) 

“UC won nothing in the courts—they have no right to build anything,” student Matthew Taylor told the council, asking them to have the barricades removed from the city’s streets. (Although the judge ruled last week in the lawsuit that pits the university against the city, a neighborhood organization and the Oaks Foundation over the question of building the training facility, each side sees the outcome differently, and they are still in court debating their interpretations of what the judge said.) 

“Food and water is a right—even when people are exercising their civil rights,” said Hillary Lehr, also a UC Berkeley student. 

As the clock ticked toward 12:30 a.m., Councilmember Dona Spring made a motion for the city to call on the university to allow a doctor to examine the tree sitters, to bring them food and water and to return the streets and sidewalks to the city. 

It was 12:26 a.m. and before they could vote, the meeting had to be extended. 

With two councilmembers absent and five votes required, just four councilmembers supported the time extension: Spring, Worthington, Moore and Anderson. As the clock reached 12:30 a.m., the meeting ended abruptly. 

That caused yelling and general pandemonium among the 15 or so tree-sit supporters remaining in the council chambers. 

“I am ashamed of the city council for being so callous,” tree sitter supporter Gianna Ranuzzi told the Planet after the meeting. 

City Manager Phil Kamlarz was to meet with university officials on the question of tree sitter health and safety on Wednesday. On Monday, June 30, there is a closed session council meeting at 5 p.m. in the council chambers to address issues related to the sports training facility lawsuit.