Tree-sitters Surrender

By Richard Brenneman
Tuesday September 09, 2008 - 03:34:00 PM
Huckleberry, the last Berkeley treesitter to surrender Tuesday, waves to supporters before he climbs down to waiting campus police.
By Richard Brenneman
Huckleberry, the last Berkeley treesitter to surrender Tuesday, waves to supporters before he climbs down to waiting campus police.

As a scaffold rose beneath them, section by section, Berkeley’s last four tree-sitters finally surrendered—with Huckleberry, the last holdout, finally setting his bare feet on the earth at 1:33 p.m. today (Tuesday). 

He stepped, handcuffed onto the denuded terrain where contract crews had cut the heart out of the grove that been the scene of a public protest that the university says cost it more than $750,000. 

The tree-sitters were progressively driven higher up into the branches of the majestic Coastal Live Oaks the university needed to cut if it is to build the Student Athlete High Performance Center (a gymnasium, locker rooms and offices) in the shadow of a seismically unsafe stadium. 

The tree-sitters represented the most militant edge of a broader challenge to the project, which included a courtroom battle that ended in the trial court with a victory for the university on the gym project, and with it an end to an injunction that barred the university from cutting down the trees at what had become a construction site. 

The four remaining tree-sitters surrendered only after the scaffolding reached their platform on the isolated redwood, which represented the last tree on the university’s logging agenda. 

Campus Police Chief Victorian Harrison talked periodically with the tree-sitters as she stood, accompanied by two and sometimes three other officers, against the railing of a metal basket suspended by a cable from a massive crane. 

Matthew Taylor, one of the organizers of ground support for the tree-sitters, said the tree-sitters agreed to descended after receiving a promise that Vice Chancellor Nathan Brostrom would publicly declare that the university pledged to create a new mechanism for community involvement in the early stages of making land use decisions. 

The scaffolding started to rise at 8:30 a.m., surrounding the tree with vertical risers later joined by horizontal connectors, with platform supports and a section-by-section stairway. 

Once the scaffold had reached the height of the treesitters’ own platform, a railing went up around the edges and workers with chainsaws cut most of the remaining branches, then dumped the tree-sitters’ belongings, followed by the old wooden platform itself. 

The treesitters had retreated to the last vertical section of tree, with two ascending to a “crows’ nest” box on top, with the police chief talking to them for her aerial perch. 

And then it was over—though 23 minutes would elapse before the first of the tree-sitters had reached the ground and Huckleberry’s first step back on solid ground. 

The tree-sitters were led away in chains. Berkeley police blocked off the northbound lane of Piedmont avenue after they were down, while campus police allowed the public to mingle on the pavement. Musical instruments appeared, and within moments, a dozen or so exuberant souls were dancing.