Spectators Mourn as UC Destroys Memorial Stadium Oak Grove; Two Arrested

By Richard Brenneman
Friday September 05, 2008 - 11:34:00 PM
Treesitters watched as university contract workers began chainsawing trees at Memorial Stadium, talking to supporters on the ground with a solar-charged cell phone.
By Richard Brenneman
Treesitters watched as university contract workers began chainsawing trees at Memorial Stadium, talking to supporters on the ground with a solar-charged cell phone.

UC Berkeley brought out the chainsaws Friday, and the air outside Memorial Stadium jittered to the sounds of saws, woodchippers and the earthward crashes of once mighty oaks. 

By the 6 p.m. as many as 25 of the 42 oaks and other trees slated for removal had been felled, as a crowd of tree-sit supporters sprinkled with clusters of opponents watched. 

Police made at least two arrests during the afternoon, including Ayr, a veteran organizer of support for the arboreal activists. 

A second supporter resisted when police tried to clear the northbound lanes of Piedmont Avenue, which had been blocked by angry supporters after Ayr’s arrest. 

The activist, Matt, yelled at police, who forced the struggling man to the ground. After a prolonged struggle, he was hauled away in handcuffs, bleeding from a cut in his left cheek. 

"It’s shameful. It’s sad," said Terri Compost, an activist who has been hauled away in handcuffs twice during the ongoing struggle at the grove. 

The fight, both at the scene and in court, has pitted the university—which wants to build a new gym and office complex at the site—against environmentalists and neighborhood groups, who waged a long and finally unsuccessful effort to spare the trees. 

It was a state appellate ruling Thursday that cleared the way for Friday’s action, after justices refused to order a halt to the university’s construction plans. 

Campus spokesperson Dan Mogulof said the university hadn’t been certain Friday morning when they could begin removing the trees, but the Watsonville contractor in charge of the cutting was able to pull together crews from other sites by mid-afternoon. 

The remaining trees fated for the fall but still standing by the times the saws went silent Friday will be downed Saturday, save perhaps for the towering redwood still occupied by the four remaining tree-sitters. 

As the trees fell, drivers and pedestrians along Piedmont Avenue were presented with a site not seen by passers-by in decades, the weatherbeaten western wall of Memorial Stadium. 

Occasionally clouds of dust would erupt when an oak thundered to the ground, its leafy mantle sweeping the air along until, confronted by the implacable firmness of the earth, it erupted skyward, carrying with it the dust of decades and a spray of sundered leaves. 

Cameras were everywhere, in the hands of journalists both on the ground and in the newscopters overhead, in the hands of police, who have captured endless hours of events in the days since the ascent of the first treesitter, and in the hands of spectators. 

Occasional shouts of protest erupted when an oak fell, or following some action by police, but several people told a reporter there was something anticlimactic about the arrival of the day they had fought to delay. 

Mogulof said that when the cutting has concluded, woodchippers will transform some of fallen branches into mulch, for use at the site and elsewhere on campus, while trucks will move the heavier sections. 

That will still leave one tree yet to fall, the redwood occupied by the treesitters. 

The university gave the quartet notice Friday morning that action to remove them could come as early as Monday morning.