Most Trees Down Near UC Berkeley Stadium

Campus in Talks With Remaining Protesters, Expected to Clear Marked Trees by End of Sunday

Photo: Most of the trees slated for removal from the oak grove near Memorial Stadium were removed by mid-day Saturday. Four tree-sitters remain in one redwood tree.
Skyler Reid/Staff
Most of the trees slated for removal from the oak grove near Memorial Stadium were removed by mid-day Saturday. Four tree-sitters remain in one redwood tree.

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Photo: The redwood tree in which the four tree-sitters stay is one of the few remaining trees in the oak grove near Memorial Stadium on Saturday afternoon.    Photo: UCPD Assitant Chief Mitch Celaya (center) and Chief Victoria Harrison (right) speak with a tree-sitter as they stand in a cherry-picker mid-day Saturday.   

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With an ultimatum from UC Berkeley giving them fewer than 24 hours to vacate, the four tree-sitters remain in the redwood overlooking Memorial Stadium.

Since Friday, virtually all the trees the protesters have rallied to save for nearly two years have been cut down by university-hired workers, clearing the way for UC Berkeley to build a controversial athletic center in the oak grove near the stadium.

Campus officials said they plan to remove all the marked trees by the end of today.

Starting at about 9 a.m. Friday, campus police gave the remaining tree-sitters 72 hours to evacuate. But Dan Mogulof, the campus's executive director of public affairs, has said the campus has not decided what action it will take if they are still occupying the grove when that ultimatum expires tomorrow morning.

A tree-sitter, who identified himself only as Shem, said by phone yesterday that he was not sure how long he and his fellow sitters would remain in their redwood tree. The protest is the longest urban tree-sit in history.

"We are not sure what is going to come in the future," he said. "But for now, our intention is to continue to hold this place and continue to bear witness to the atrocity the university has committed."

He said their conditions are unsafe, claiming that workers were cutting the branches that he and the tree-sitters were standing on.

Mogulof said he witnessed the protesters putting themselves in harm's way.

"As arborists moved for the limb, (the tree-sitters) moved onto that limb," he said.

The campus will continue to provide the tree-sitters with food and water until about 9 a.m. tomorrow, Mogulof said. He said UC Berkeley officials are seeking a peaceful solution to the protest and are not offering the protesters amnesty.

UCPD Chief Victoria Harrison and Assistant Chief Mitch Celaya spent about 40 minutes on a cherry picker negotiating with the four remaining tree-sitters yesterday afternoon.

Five protesters―including the group's unofficial spokesperson, a man who goes by the name Ayr―were arrested by UCPD Friday.

Tree-sit supporters, many of whom were in tears, said they were overwhelmed by the emotions of seeing one tree after another fall to the ground.

"This was never an attack on sports. It was only protection of a beautiful space that a lot of people cared about for so many reasons," UC Berkeley senior Laili Falatoonzadeh said. "I didn't think the day would go like this."

However, a number of other students said they supported the campus's actions and loudly cheered when each tree fell to the ground.

Three groups-the city of Berkeley, the California Oak Foundation and the Panoramic Hill Association-sued the university in December 2006 seeking to prevent the construction of the athletic center. Two weeks ago, a county judge issued a final ruling in the case in favor of the university.

Attorneys from the foundation and the association promptly asked for an appeal of the case.

On Thursday a court of appeals in San Francisco decided to hear the appeal, but also gave the campus the go-ahead to begin construction.

Stephan Volker, an attorney for the foundation, asked for an emergency injunction from the California Supreme Court, which has yet to issue a ruling.

While campus officials originally said they were not planning on removing the trees so quickly, they said it became apparent Friday afternoon they could begin the removal of 42 of the 70 trees at the grove sooner than initially expected.

Starting shortly after 8:30 a.m. Friday, workers from a tree removal company hired by the university began pruning branches from trees using cherrypickers and chainsaws, Mogulof said. About six hours later, the company pulled workers from other jobs to begin actually cutting down entire trees.

Along nearby Piedmont Avenue, tree-sit supporters mourned and watched from a row of makeshift shelters. Some of them have been there since the protest began in 2006.

A 21-year-old woman, who only gave her name as Maple, said she was a former UC Berkeley student and that she vowed to remain there. She said she has been at the site for about a year and a half, including a half-dozen months up in the trees.

"I feel like this didn't need to happen. There could have been a compromise," she said. "If so many people care about the trees, couldn't they pour concrete somewhere else?"

City Councilmember Gordon Wozniak said that the city and campus will eventually need to clear the supporters from the sidewalks.

"We don't allow it in parks around the city and I don't see why we will allow it here," he said.

For the protesters, Mogulof said, the reality of the falling trees is "going to take a little while to sink in."

"At the end of the day, the protest accomplished nothing but get attention for a few individuals who are not even students," he said.


Will Kane is the city news editor. Stephanie M. Lee is the assistant university news editor. Contact them at [email protected]

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