University, Protesters Near Grove Showdown

By Richard Brenneman
Monday September 08, 2008 - 02:38:00 PM

UC Berkeley officials are “weighing their options” to end the tree-sit at Memorial Stadium after negotiations ended between university officials, tree-sitters and their supporters on the ground. 

The university also released bidding packages Monday for the project that will replace the now-vanished trees, and campus police are preparing for an action that could end the 20-month-old treesit. 

“We’ve explored ways to bring this to a fairly quick and safe conclusion,” said campus spokesperson Dan Mogulof, who would only say Monday that action would occur “very soon,” but not that night. 

Accounts of the failed talks vary according to the source. 

“We discussed and negotiated throughout the weekend,” said university spokesperson Dan Mogulof. “We thought we had a deal Saturday night.” 

Mogulof said that what the tree-sitters had a “modest request to participate in discussions” with university officials, “unfortunately the people on the ground urged a harder line.” 

“That’s a fucking lie,” said Ayr, one of the key organizers of support for the tree-sitters since they first took to the branches on Dec. 2, 2006. 

Ayr, otherwise known as Eric Eisenberg, said the university offer was for the four tree-sitters to surrender in exchange for university permission for Native Americans to hold a ceremony at the site of the largest of the fallen trees, dubbed Grandmother Oak. 

“There’s nothing there,” said Ayr. “We want something tangible and lasting. We made a specific proposal to the university last night (Sunday) and this morning they cut off negotiations.” 

“We presented a proposal for mediated discussions on a broad range of concerns,” said Mogulof. “Vice Chancellor Nathan Brostrom came out and signed a document,” which was sent up to the tree-sitters.  

“But when it was presented to members of ground support, it was clear they wanted to use the presence of the tree-sitters to press for a new set of demands,” he said. 

As a result, he said, “we are now making preparations in the event they plan to continue. We gave it a good shot over the course of the 72 hours.” 

Peter Bluhon, a professional mediator, was hired by the university to manage talks with the tree-sitters. Ayr said the university representatives told him Monday morning that they were not interested in discussing a counter-proposal submitted Sunday night. 

Ayr said the proposal called for the university to create an oversight body including members of Berkeley city government, neighborhood associations, Native Americans and students “which would help the university make land use decisions so that something like this never happens again.” 

Other conditions included “some sort of reparations so that they can preserve something else in the East Bay” as well as support for a grass roots Native American group. 

“We also asked the university to return the stump of Grandmother Oak to Native Americans who have asked to use it to make drums and other artifacts.” 

Mogulof told reporters during a Monday afternoon press conference at the stadium—complete with a prepared backdrop for TV cameras—that the treesit supporters had sought “$6 million in contributions and full amnesty.” 

Ayr had earlier said that any demands presented had represented initial points for further discussion. 

University contractors have leveled all but one of the trees slated for destruction as part of the site preparations for the Student Athlete High Performance Center, a four-level gym and office complex planned for alongside the stadium’s western wall. 

That tree is a redwood occupied by the tree-sitters. A second tree, a redwood, is scheduled for replanting elsewhere on campus. Mogulof said UC gardeners had examined all the trees in the grove and determined that only the single evergreen was suitable for transplanting. 

A state appellate court ruling Thursday cleared the way for the removal of the coastal live oak and other trees that occupy the site. 

In a written statement released Monday afternoon, Brostrom said, “It is extremely regrettable that the protesters were unable to come to agreement among themselves and accept an offer that was designed to directly address their stated concerns. 

“At this point the campus is making preparations to quickly bring this situation to a safe but certain end. We will continue to urge them to come down voluntarily and sincerely hope they decide not to continue with a protest that is now without purpose.”