Ruling Raises Questions About Oak Grove's Historical Importance

Photo: The Memorial Stadium oaks are said by protesters to be of an endangered species, a claim denied by UC Berkeley officials.
Eli Weissman/File
The Memorial Stadium oaks are said by protesters to be of an endangered species, a claim denied by UC Berkeley officials.

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Correction Appended

The release of the ruling in the Memorial Stadium lawsuits has refocused community attention on the environmental and historical importance of the site proposed to house a new athletic center.

Opponents of the construction, such as tree-sit supporter and community activist Zachary RunningWolf, have claimed that the 26 live oak trees slated for removal are an endangered species.

But according to the United States Department of Agriculture's Natural Resources Conservation Service, coast live oaks, the particular species of oak tree at the grove, are neither a threatened nor an endangered species.

Of the trees scheduled for removal in the grove, which include more than just oaks, only two or three predate Memorial Stadium, said UC Berkeley Executive Director of Public Affairs Dan Mogulof.

The majority of the oak trees were planted as part of "a landscaping project" at the time the stadium was built, he said.

Opponents of the athletic center have also claimed that the oak grove where the center is slated to be built is the site of an Ohlone Indian burial ground.

Last year, the tree-sitters said an anonymous source sent them a copy of an archeological site survey record generated by the university in 1925 that stated that a burial ground had been discovered during the construction of Memorial Stadium.

The Ohlone Indians populated coastal regions around the Bay Area until Spanish settlers arrived in the 18th century.

UC Berkeley has issued a statement claiming that there is no substantial proof that the grove is an Ohlone burial ground, but in the event that cultural deposits are discovered, they will be treated in accordance with the law.

"Prior to construction, the university will, through the services of an independent archeological consulting firm, conduct extensive archeological testing ... if (campus workers) do find evidence of intact cultural deposits, they will abide by all of the laws and regulations that govern their care," university officials said in the statement.

Ohlone tribe member Andrew Galvan agreed with the university's claim that native burials at the site are unlikely, saying that he is "unaware of any proof saying current burials exists in that area."

Galvan owns an independent consulting firm that is currently collaborating with the university on research.

But Andres Cediel, the director and co-producer of "Shellmound," a documentary analyzing the recent history of commercial development on the Emeryville Shellmound, said he believes that if the university moves forward with construction, it will be doing a disservice to the Ohlone tribe's history.

"In the Emeryville mound, more than 600 burials were disturbed and removed, but development continued ... the desecration of native burial grounds (has become) the norm," he said.


Correction: Monday, June 23, 2008
Thursday's article "Ruling Raises Questions About Oak Grove's Historical Importance," misspelled reporter Joseph Bui's name. The same article also identified Andres Cediel as a co-producer of the documentary "Shellmound." In fact, he is the producer.

The Daily Californian regrets the error.

Contact Jacqueline Johnston and Joseph Bui at [email protected]

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