Court Hearing on Stadium Gym Could Spell Oak Grove’s Demise

By Richard Brenneman
Thursday July 17, 2008 - 09:39:00 AM

UC Berkeley squares off with its foes in a Hayward courtroom this morning (Thursday) during a hearing on the university’s bid to start construction at the site of the ongoing tree-sit. 

The university wants to demolish the grove of coastal live oaks and other trees where protesters have been occupying the branches since December 2006. 

The school wants to build a four-level gym and office complex and says further delays would cost the university more money as well as damage its ability to raise contributions from free-spending fans of its sports teams. 

Lawsuits were filed by the City of Berkeley and a collection of environmental and neighborhood groups, as well as the late City Councilmember Dona Spring, who conducted her last public protest at the grove June 22 when she confronted campus Assistant Police Chief Mitch Celaya and unsuccessfully demanded entrance to the city-owned sidewalk west of the stadium on Piedmont Avenue. 

The university has sealed off the sidewalk to deny access to supporters of the four remaining treesitters. 

The university’s opponents filed their final written arguments Friday in advance of the hearing before Alameda County Superior Court Judge Barbara J. Miller. 

While Miller had ruled against most of the claims challenging the approval by the UC Board of Regents of the Southeast Campus Integrated Projects environmental impact report (EIR), which included the gym, she said the project as described did raise possible violations of the Alquist-Priolo Act, which governs construction within 50 feet of active earthquake faults. 

The university responded by eliminating those aspects of the projects she cited, contending that nothing remains that would bar immediate construction. 

But the plaintiffs argue that the removal of one key feature, a grade beam that would buttress the western wall of Memorial Stadium, was removed from plans despite the earlier contention by university officials that it was required under the state building code. 

The hearing begins at 10 a.m. in Department 512 at the Hayward courthouse. A victory for the university would pave the way for demolition of the grove, a move that would first require an end to the treesit.