City, Campus Still Paying Legal Bills For Tree-Sit Suits

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News Analysis: Cost of the Lawsuit

City News Editor Will Kane discusses the cost of the Athletic Center lawsuit.

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Two years after the tree-sit and its associated lawsuits began, the bills are coming in and all parties involved are re-evaluating how they can prevent the town-gown relationship in Berkeley from deteriorating.

The campus spent at least $2,230,681 on security at the tree-sit from Dec. 2, 2006 to Sept. 9, 2008. The largest portion, $1.17 million, went toward police services, including mutual aid from the UC San Francisco police department, according to Dan Mogulof, the campus's executive director of public affairs.

The second-largest expense was overtime pay for UCPD officers, which cost upwards of $604,000.

In legal fees, the university has so far spent $1,118,041 defending itself in the three lawsuits and their appeals.

"We anticipated the legal costs, but not the security," said Nathan Brostrom, the campus's vice chancellor for administration. "That was really out of the blue how much (that cost)."

On the other end, the city of Berkeley will have likely spent at least $400,000 on its suit against the university, said Mary Kay Clunies-Ross, the city's spokesperson.

Panoramic Hill Association, another plaintiff, has spent approximately $60,000 to $70,000 of private donations on its case, said Michael Kelly, the association's president.

The numbers are particularly striking as both the city and campus are facing drastic budget cuts from the state, and the nation sinks into a recession.

But UC Berkeley officials say the costs will likely be absorbed by private donors and discretionary funds, while city council members say they will use money from the general fund.

Brostrom said the security costs-which came from the campus's law enforcement contingency fund-would be paid for by private donors who are supporting the construction of the new athletic training center.

At the heart of both the suit and the 21-month-long protest-the longest urban tree-sit in history-was UC Berkeley's plan to construct a $126 million athletic training facility on the west side of Memorial Stadium.

The city and the Panoramic Hill Association sued in objection to what they said was the campus's incomplete planning process. The California Oak Foundation also sued to prevent the removal of 42 trees near the stadium.

A judge issued an injunction preventing construction in January 2007, further delaying the project and surprising many. But after months of legal proceedings, a state appellate court ruled in September that the campus could begin construction at the site and remove the tree-sitters.

Within days, UCPD went into action and the grove was cleared. UC Berkeley Chancellor Robert Birgeneau broke ground on the project weeks later.

While campus officials said they expected that there would be legal costs and delay, they were amazed by how long the process finally took.

"Nobody, nobody expected we would wait as long as we did for a final verdict," Mogulof said.

Stephan Volker, an attorney who was working pro bono for the California Oak Foundation, said the lawsuit was worth the price tag, even if the trees were cut down.

"We did everything we could to enforce the law, but at this juncture, we were unfortunately only partially successful," he said.

Both the campus and the Panoramic Hill Association are negotiating how the campus can best retrofit Memorial Stadium. While Brostrom said that UC Berkeley officials were accounting for possible legal costs and delays, they were ultimately striving to avoid them.

"A lot of it seems to stem from misinformation and not knowing," he said. "I think if we are able to involve people earlier on in the process and explain what we are doing and why we are doing it, that can help stem a lot of litigants."

Kelly said that from the perspective of the Panoramic Hill Association, he had already seen a change in the campus's attitude.

"As a result of the lawsuit-as often happens-I think our relationship with the campus has changed," he said. "There is increased communication and awareness."


Will Kane is the city news editor. Contact him at [email protected]

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