UC Police Fence in Memorial Oak Grove Protest

Brian Whitley is the city news editor. Contact him at [email protected]

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Last night, a tree-sitter who goes by the name Crow recorded this statement about the erection of a fence around the oak grove at Memorial Stadium. Crow climbed across a branch that leaned over the fence and took the recorder from a pouch lowered from the tree.

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A crowd of protesters rallied yesterday against a newly built chain-link fence around the oak grove near Memorial Stadium that campus officials defended as a necessary safety measure.

At least one scuffle with police, two arrests, traffic blockages and more than 100 people linking arms in response to threatened oak trees were the latest developments in the controversy over a proposed athletic facility.

About 20 UC police officers arrived at the grove at about 6:00 a.m. yesterday morning to tape off the nine-month-old tree-sit protest and supervise the construction of a chain-link fence around the trees.

The tree-sitters are protesting UC Berkeley’s intended removal of 26 coast live oak trees that would clear the way for a new student athletic training center adjacent to the stadium. Campus officials have offered to plant three new oak trees for each one that is removed.

Three entities—the city of Berkeley, the California Oaks Foundation and the Panoramic Hill Association—have mounted lawsuits against the university over the plans, citing concerns about earthquake safety, traffic and the oaks.

Nathan Brostrom, the campus’s vice chancellor of administration, said he and UCPD Chief Victoria Harrison made the decision to erect the fence to prevent altercations between fans and protesters at Saturday’s football game.

Brostrom said alternatives such as using only caution tape were rejected as being insufficient barriers at an event that over 70,000 people are expected to attend. The campus’s executive director of public affairs, Dan Mogulof, said the football game means the university cannot continue a hands-off approach.

“We have tolerated that illegal presence since Dec. 9,” he said.

The fence will remain for the duration of the football season, said UCPD Sgt. David Eubanks.

Angry protesters, who numbered about 20 by 8:00 a.m., responded with loud promises to make the police’s guarding of the fence difficult. They characterized the barrier as an attempt to starve out the tree-sitters.

A woman calling herself Rosebud, who said she has spent time in the trees, said she hoped protest supporters would chain themselves to the fence.

At 5 p.m., police removed the yellow caution tape surrounding the fence, which campus officials said contains four gates and cost $10,000 to $12,000, and a crowd of about 15 rushed to its western perimeter.

“We’re going to swarm them,” said local activist Zachary RunningWolf of the officers. “They’re going to give up.”

As the crowd quickly began to swell, someone at the fence’s edge tried to lift a bag of food and water to a tree-sitter who had climbed partway down a low-hanging branch of a nearby tree.

Officers hurried to confiscate the bag. The struggle knocked the would-be supplier to the ground, touching off shouts of “Fascists!”

“It’s a little tense right now,” Eubanks said after the incident. “This is a pretty big change from the last nine months.”

Freelance photographer Harold Adler likened yesterday’s dispute to UC Berkeley putting up a fence around People’s Park in May 1969.

“This is the way UC Berkeley takes back its property,” he said.

Eubanks said the provision of supplies to tree-sitters, who are trespassing, constitutes a crime. Police said at about 7 p.m. that two arrests had been made.

A man in the trees who identified himself as Crow criticized police for initially trying to curb supply deliveries, though they began to allow them after about 6 p.m.

“What they’re doing here today is extremely inhumane and there’s no excuse for it, regardless of what the stance on the tree-sit is and what happens to this grove,” he said.

At its largest, the crowd around the oak grove reached more than 200 people, including many students. One chanted “Get a job!” while others voiced support for the tree-sitters.

“I plan on fighting for the trees,” said freshman Matt Rankin.

Kevin Leahy, Julie Strack and Bryan Thomas of The Daily Californian contributed to this report.

Correction: This article incorrectly identified the California Oak Foundation as the California Oaks Foundation. This article also misquoted UC Executive Director of Public Affairs Dan Mogulof. He said, “We have tolerated (the tree-sitters’) illegal presence since last December,” not “since Dec. 9.” The Daily Californian regrets the errors.


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