Public Comment

Saving Strawberry Canyon

By Neal Blumenfeld
Wednesday January 07, 2009 - 06:24:00 PM

On Dec. 4, three weeks ago today at the Berkeley High School Auditorium was the scene for the 12th annual Mario Savio Lecture, given by Robert Kenney, Jr. Because of UC administration’s refusal to settle a labor dispute on campus, RFK Jr. refused to talk there. His address was preceded by the “Young Activist Award,” given to an organizer of immigrant women in New York City. One of her accomplishments was to help taxi dancers unionize; she even convincing the dance hall patrons, the $2 a dance ticket men who were also immigrants, to empathize with the dancers. 

RFK Jr., also an organizer par excellence, founded the Waterkeepers’ Alliance, a local division, the Baykeepers, is helping the Save Strawberry Canyon group with its legal battles with UC. While the tree-sit at the UC stadium oak grove got some coverage, the bigger issue of the watershed has been largely ignored. By the way, the Oak Grove protests marked the last public appearance of Mario Savio’s Free Speech Movement sidekick, Michael Rossman, who passed away earlier this year.  

RFK Jr. didn’t mention the Save Strawberry Canyon fight; I thought that would have neatly captured the “local” aspect of the “think globally, act locally” slogan. He was busy enumerating an amazing number of other environmental struggles, with such enthusiasm, humor, and knowledge that he could have gone on until midnight.  

Lynn Hollander Savio, chair of the Lecture committee, filled that blank, and talked about saving Strawberry in her introduction. Like most people, even those in the activist community, she had never heard of the issue until she saw the big banner in the foyer of the auditorium.  

The banner was courtesy of the Save Strawberry Canyon activists (one of whom, Sylvia McLoughlin, had been instrumental in Save the Bay 40 years earlier—and now in her 90’s, climbed one of the oaks during the stadium protest). Not only was Strawberry Canyon never intended for development, communities all around the bay are clamoring for usage of their buildings and space. 

A watershed is an apt metaphor—for a new awareness, after which nothing appears like it had been. For the Free Speech Movement—out of which the Savios and this lecture series sprung—seeing what corporate UC was up to was old home week. It took Lynn Savio no time flat to get it. UC, the local 800-pound gorilla, wants to turn the Strawberry watershed into an industrial park. That includes a half-billion dollar deal with British Petroelum for a biofuel “factory”; a big expansion of Lawrence Berkeley Lab; and a new building for an expanded computer facility.  

So once again, while there are the countless global issues that RFK Jr. spelled out—let’s not forget to act locally as well.  


Neal Blumenfeld is a Berkeley resident.