Public Comment

What the Tree-Sitters Wanted — And Still Want

By Ayr
Thursday September 11, 2008 - 09:51:00 AM

After UC cut down Memorial Stadium oak grove, the tree-sitters remained for three days in a lone redwood tree surrounded by decimation before they agreed to come down Tuesday morning. During those three days you probably wanted to know: What do they want in order to come down? 

UC has a systemic problem: It receives all the legal benefits of a public institution while lacking any democratic process that involves the community in land use decisions. Community members can make comments after decisions are made, but have no real role during the planning process. 

We asked for UC to create a “Community Land Use and Capital Projects Committee”—which would be systematically involved in land use, land management, and development planning decisions, both at the brainstorm phase of projects and on an ongoing basis. The committee would be comprised of students, community members, neighborhood association representatives, Native Americans, environmentalists, and city government representatives. This would be a positive development for all parties. Community members would have substantial and serious input into decisions that affect their environment; and UC would ensure a more co-operative spirit and avoid the drawbacks of lawsuits and protests. 

We further asked for UC to set aside a non-trivial sum from future football revenues to be utilized to benefit land conservation as well as the Intertribal Friendship House, which serves Native American communities. 

Finally, we wanted UC to return the remains of the “Grandmother Oak”—a tree who was older than the university—so that Native Americans will be able to make drums or other religious artifacts. 

Our hope is that these proposals build toward a positive future of a more sustainable, democratic, and co-operative university. 

UC was unwilling to discuss any of these proposals until after the tree-sitters came down. In the interests of safety and ending the protest on a positive note, the tree-sitters spoke directly with UC officials, and reached an agreement that Vice Chancellor Nathan Brostrom would make the following public statement: “The university will create new ways to involve the community in land use decisions going forward.” 

But what will that involvement be? Will it be a token form of rubber-stamp representation, while the university pursues business as usual, or will it be a genuine effort to involve the community in decisions? It is up to all the citizens of Berkeley to make sure the university does the right thing. 

We still believe the university should use its financial resources to mitigate the destruction of the grove, and return the Grandmother Oak stump to the native community. 

Finally, Native American leader and community organizer Morning Star Gali requested that she and others be able to enter the remains of the grove and place tobacco offerings at the stump of the Grandmother Oak. UC Police Chief Victoria Harrison agreed on Saturday to this request, but she made it conditional on the tree-sitters coming down first. Our response at the time was simple: It’s completely inappropriate to link the two issues, which are unrelated. Under no circumstances should the native community’s religious rights be denied. After the tree-sit ended, Morning Star again made the request, and Chief Harrison has not returned her calls. 

Morning Star has announced that the native community will attempt to hold the ceremony this Friday at 10 a.m. at the remains of the oak grove, all are welcome. We hope Chief Harrison will do the right thing and open the gate to let us in, so please call her and ask her to do so: 642-1133 or e-mail Also please ask her to return the stump of the Grandmother Oak. 

It is truly incomprehensible how, in 2008, an institution that claims to be so progressive can destroy a Native American burial ground, a World War I veterans’ memorial, and an urban forest/wildlife corridor in violation of local laws while there is a yet-to-be-concluded court case just to build a gym that could easily be built elsewhere. Furthermore, it is despicable that this same institution —which pimps its reputation as “the birthplace of free speech”—has vilified so badly those who would defend this place, going so far as to accuse us of endangering students, when it was UC who negligently built office and training facilities in this death trap of a stadium 28 years ago. 

We loved the oak grove dearly, as did so many others. Its loss is a tragedy. We hope that UC will show respect for the countless community members who dedicated so much for this sacred place.. 


Ayr has been a ground supporter from the beginning of the tree-sit.