Tree-Sit Supporters Turn to City Council

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The by-now-familiar cast of characters-the man in the cheerleading skirt, the woman in the ankle-length yellow dress and unofficial protest leader Zachary RunningWolf in his signature braids-stormed the Berkeley City Council meeting Tuesday to denounce the university's handling of the longest urban tree-sit in history.

After Sunday's failed attempt by ground supporters to supply the tree-sitters with food and water, the protesters attempted to combat the university's treatment of the tree-sitters by encouraging the City Council to take a stand.

A rag-tag coalition of tree-sitters who go by aliases such as "Squirtle" and "Millipede" have occupied the oak grove near UC Berkeley's Memorial Stadium since December 2006 in protest of an athletic training facility proposed to be built in the grove, meaning that 44 trees planted as part of a "landscape project" there will likely be lifted from their roots.

UCPD has continued its more than week-long blockade of the grove since a court ruling last week determined that an injunction preventing the trees from being cut down still stands, leaving many protest supporters claiming that the campus has "violated basic human rights" by not allowing supporters to bring the tree-sitters supplies.

The protesters even brought an emergency room doctor to the grove to try and diagnose health problems from well below the tree-sitters.

"The nine of them have defined that they have an emergency medical condition ... you can't go without water for three or four days or seven at the max (before having irreversible side-effects)," emergency room physician Larry Bedard testified to the council.

Claims like these have led city officials to try and negotiate with the university about health and safety concerns.

The campus has responded to these concerns through conversations with city officials and by sending a letter to Phil Kamlarz, the city manager on Tuesday.

In a letter signed by Nathan Brostrom, the vice chancellor of administration, and UCPD Police Chief Victoria Harrison to Kamlarz, the campus stated that it is monitoring the situation closely and will make decisions it deems appropriate when dealing with tree-sitters who are in the grove illegally and who can come down voluntarily at any time.

"In the event that they do not come down, we will take appropriate measures to maintain their health and safety," the letter stated. "We will not however, allow resupply from outside groups."

The tree-sitters have since said that they will only accept supplies from their supporters.

Kamlarz responded to the letter at the meeting, saying the university's actions are not necessary because the trees cannot be touched until the court determines the fate of the grove.

"I asked that we work together and try to work out the issues," he said at the meeting.

Conversely, the university has also pointed out that since the injunction still stands there is no reason for the tree-sitters to remain.

Hundreds of supporters and curious onlookers congregated near the grove last week to watch the tree-sit saga come to a head more than 80 feet in the air in a series of extractions from the trees and arrests on the street.

Following testimonies of protesters and even the tree-sitters via cell phone during the meeting, Councilmember Kriss Worthington motioned that the issue be deemed an emergency item so it could be addressed later that night.

"People plucking you out of the sky at 80 feet ... this could be a recipe for a severe disaster," said Councilmember Max Anderson.

However, other council members said that if there were truly an emergency, the tree-sitters could call an ambulance themselves on their cell phones.

"Don't they have to come down to go the emergency room?" Councilmember Betty Olds inquired. "You can't expect the fire department to go in the tree."

The council decided to send an "unbiased" party to the grove in order to determine if the situation should be considered an emergency.

"It seems to me like we need to know a lot more detail," said Berkeley Mayor Tom Bates.

After assessing the conditions at the grove, Berkeley Fire Department Chief Gil Dong and a representative of the city manager's office determined that the oak grove situation is not an emergency.

After hearing the decision, tree-sit supporters at the meeting rushed to the council members at the front of the room, pointed their fingers at them and called them "cowards."

The City Council will hold a special closed meeting and a public comment session about the tree-sit on June 30.


Ashley Trott is an assistant news editor. Contact her at [email protected]

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