Treesitting Pair Occupies Acacia at People's Park

By Richard Brenneman
Tuesday January 06, 2009 - 04:51:00 PM
UC Berkeley gained a pair of new treesitters Monday morning in one of two acacias at People's Park designated for the ax by university officials.
By Richard Brenneman
UC Berkeley gained a pair of new treesitters Monday morning in one of two acacias at People's Park designated for the ax by university officials.

The treesitters are back on UC Berkeley’s turf, this time occupying the branches of an acacia at People’s Park. 

    Two protesters declared their occupation Monday morning of one of two People’s Park acacias that the university plans to chop down. 

    Unlike the Memorial Stadium treesit, which ended in September with the demolition of a venerable oak grove, the People’s Park protest wasn’t sparked by construction. 

    While the university wanted to clear the stadium grove to make way for a four-level high tech gym and office complex, UC Berkeley spokesperson Irene Hegarty says safety concerns have prompted plans to remove the trees from the park. 

    And even some treesit supporters say they aren’t adamantly opposed to removal of the trees should that prove necessary, so long as the university replaces them, and not necessarily with acacias.  

    “We have a lot of demands,” said one of the treesitters. 

    Just what those demands were still wasn’t clear by early Tuesday afternoon, though some had been made explicit. One of the most controversial is certain to be the demand to reinstate the free box, where people could drop off clothing and other donations for the park’s homeless population. Protests, an arson and several arrests marked the prolonged battle between activists and the university that ended with the elimination of the People’s Park free box. 

    While some supporters say they want the acacias to live, others say that they might accept replacements if the university shows that the trees must go. 

    Zachary RunningWolf staged a brief occupation of one of the acacias on Dec. 18, before UC Police Capt. Guillermo Beckford signed an agreement to postpone any axing action until after the holidays. 

    RunningWolf is among the backers of indigenous replacements if needed, preferably a redwood—the same species he climbed to kick off the Memorial Stadium treesit two years earlier. 

    Kingman Lim, an independent certified arborist who volunteered to look at the two acacias, said he believed the trees could be saved “with a combination of non-invasive cabling and end-weight reduction.” 

    University spokesperson Hegarty said reports on the park’s acacias were prepared by three arborists in 2003 after safety concerns were triggered when another park acacia toppled unexpectedly. 

    One consultant was on the university staff and a second was hired by the school, while a third was paid “by the community.” 

    All of them said the three playground acacias were structurally weak, and one had been reduced to a hollow shell. The hollowed tree was removed, and the decision was made to examine the remaining trees in five years. 

    The university’s latest plans to remove the trees were sparked by the collapse of a fourth acacia at the western end of the park in early December, she said, though the People’s Park Community Advisory Board had been briefed on concerns about the trees a month earlier. 

    RunningWolf said he didn’t believe the larger community had been adequately notified, “and needed to be involved before any decisions were made about the trees. 

    Regin, another supporter of the treesit and one of those who had occupied the trees at Memorial Stadium for 11 months, said “the kids up there in the trees know they are depending on this earth to keep on living, and they are there to save life that is in jeopardy.” 

    And in a statement released Monday night, treesit supporters said one of the demands is that “stay-away orders given to people involved in the Oak Grove tree-sit should refer only to the campus, not other UC properties such as People’s Park.”