One UC Department’s Response to Budget Cuts: Service

By Joe Eaton, Special to the Planet
Thursday December 17, 2009 - 08:36:00 AM
UC students wrestle invasive ivy into submission.
Ron Sullivan
UC students wrestle invasive ivy into submission.

In response to state budget cuts, UC Berkeley students, faculty, and staff in the Department of Landscape Architecture are pitching in to help on-campus environmental restoration efforts and gardening programs at local schools. They call themselves the Landscape Progress Administration, an echo of the Depression-era Works Progress Administration that provided public-sector jobs and left a legacy of public works in the Bay Area and across the nation. 

Students in Professor Randy Hester’s class even designed their own banners, inspired by WPA posters and made from recycled fabric. According to their press release, the students chose the name to “call attention to hard times…and to call for a civic-minded spirit of public investment that we believe is lacking in our Prop. 13-bound state Legislature.” 

A couple of weeks ago, the students in Professor Louise Mozingo’s History of Landscape Architecture class tackled the daunting job of ivy removal in the Hickson Natural Area, on the north branch of Strawberry Creek just north of the Moffitt Library. Other groups helped rehab a community garden at Oakland’s Castlemont High School, conducted a planting project at Claremont Middle School, cleared brush on the on the Black Point Summit Trail at Mount Diablo State Park, and surveyed water consumption in campus restrooms.  

“This all came out of a faculty retreat in August,” said Mozingo, after a 16 percent cut was announced for the College of Environmental Design, which houses the Landscape Architecture Department. “There was discussion of the impact of the budget cuts, and a lot of grousing, groaning, and whining. Finally Randy Hester said: ‘We’ve got to do something positive.’”  

Claire O’Reilly, a graduate student in Landscape Architecture and Urban Planning, explained that the students in a Citizen Participation in Community Design course had organized the service days as their class project for the semester. “Six of us worked developing project ideas,” she said. “We led a participatory process, surveyed students and faculty for ideas, and held a town hall meeting where we presented the results of the survey.” The service projects were selected for their direct connection to state budget cuts involving public schools, state parks, and restoration work on Strawberry Creek. The student group pointed to funding reductions of $5.8 billion for K-12 public education and $14 million for state parks this year alone.  

When we visited the creekside ivy removal site, Hester’s class had already cleared out 26 cubic yards in a morning work session. “The early group was working really hard because it was cold outside,” said Tyler Grinberg, an intern with the Strawberry Creek Restoration Project. “If you give groups a small plot they can completely eradicate the ivy, which is really good for morale.” 

He and Lindsey Sanders directed the volunteers. “You never know what you’ll find in the ivy,” Grinberg told the group. “Once someone found a sword. We’ve also found baseballs and discarded clothing.” Sure enough, one ivy-puller discovered a rusty steak knife. The students rolled back the ivy like a rug, wrestling the green anaconda into a waiting truck. 

Grinberg explained that the campus creek restoration was being financed by a grant from The Green Initiative Fund through the Chancellor’s office. Water quality issues had already been addressed, he said, and ivy and other invasive plants were currently being removed. Volunteers can take part in monthly ivy pulls; see lists.berkeley.edu for information. The next phase, already funded, will be a native-plant nursery on the west side of Giannini Hall.  

“We categorize this as oak-bay woodland,” he continued. “We’ll be planting California bay, coast live oak, toyon, native rhododendron, monkeyflower, native annual and perennial grasses. All the native species you see in Strawberry Canyon belong down here as well.” The restoration project is using only plants from the local watershed: “It’s important to keep things local. We’re working with local nurseries and people at Tilden Regional Park.” 

According to Grinberg, there’s even a public-safety angle to ivy removal: “The UC Police Department says the crime rate has gone down since we started on the ivy issue.” Elsewhere on campus, his crews uncovered a forgotten bit of Cal history: the plaque marking the spot of the LeConte Oak, former site of Big Game rallies and poetry readings. 

The Landscape Progress Administration was not just a one-time effort, O’Reilly said: “We’re hoping to develop a long-term connection with the schools and other partners. The student chapter of the American Society of Landscape Architects will be working on this next spring. All the parties have indicated they want to remain involved.” 

For her part, Mozingo sees important parallels with the New Deal namesake. “In class we learn about people who worked hard bringing good things to the public landscape,” she said. “The WPA did a lot of this kind of stuff—revegetation and reforestation. These students are going to go into fields that serve the public good. The last thing they should do is pay more for that education.”