Tree-Sit Resonates One Year Later

Photo: Workers hired by UC removed the final four tree-sitters from a lone redwood tree near Memorial Stadium on Sept. 9, 2008, ending the longest urban tree-sit in history. One year after the conclusion of the protest, the campus and city still feel its effects.
Will Kane/File
Workers hired by UC removed the final four tree-sitters from a lone redwood tree near Memorial Stadium on Sept. 9, 2008, ending the longest urban tree-sit in history. One year after the conclusion of the protest, the campus and city still feel its effects.

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One Year Anniversary of the Tree-Sit

Staff members from The Daily Californian recount the history of the tree-sit.

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To the untrained eye of first-timers at UC Berkeley, the construction around Memorial Stadium may look like any other campus construction project, but a year ago this week it was just reaching the end of a hot-bed of controversy.

Up until early September last year, protesters opposed to the construction of a Student-Athlete High Performance Center had been living for 649 days among the trees that once stood in the oak grove near Memorial Stadium in what is considered the longest urban tree-sit in history.

Names like Dumpster Muffin and Zachary RunningWolf grabbed attention and frequented world-wide media outlets. In its close to two-year run, the tree-sit took the forefront of what many considered a "media-feeding frenzy."

However, despite the memorable efforts of numerous tree-sitters and their supporters to save the group of oaks that once stood in the grove, the legal battle around the high performance center ultimately determined the trees' fate.

By the end of last month, construction at the stadium included developing the center's underground utilities. According to Dan Mogulof, campus executive director of public affairs, construction of the center is expected to be completed in the summer of 2011.

Conceptual plans for the athletic center had been announced in 2005. However, the campus was only able to physically commence work on the project in September 2008, when a local judge lifted a prior injunction that had prevented the center's construction.

Looking at the issue now, many individuals who were involved-both in the trees and in court-said the ordeal made a significant impact on the relationship between the city and the university that resonates even one year later.

In the case of the athletic center, some Berkeley citizens said the campus should have been more inclusive and mindful of the opinions of its surrounding community when planning the athletic facility, while campus and university officials said they were trying to focus on the well-being of the students.

Similar issues between the campus and city continue to affect both sides. Projects such as the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory's Helios facility have attracted heat in the form of lawsuits from local groups and residents.

"The legal action is the only thing that seems to be able to stop (the university)," said local historian and Berkeley resident Richard Schwartz.

However, as with many past and present cases surrounding campus construction efforts, many Berkeley residents find fault and are unsatisfied with the amount of public involvement the campus elicits in these projects.

"These things seem to come in cycles," said Michael Kelly, vice president of UC relations for the Panoramic Hill Association, one of the organizations that sued the university over the athletic center's construction. "The fundamental issue is this systematic ... sense of power and entitlement."

Though there have been many examples of activism since then, the tree-sit itself has made its mark on history as an example of what many consider the spirit of the city and its residents.

"I was exhilarated by the community ... standing up to protect something that was precious to them," said Redwood Mary, a former tree-sitter and a member of Grandmothers for the Oaks.

For some tree-sitters, the stadium protest was just one protest in a long string of other forms of protest. Former tree-sitter, Tristan Anderson, was hit in the head by a tear-gas canister in March during a protest in Israel.

Others said they will remember it as being an example of Berkeley activism.

"I think that'll stand as an inspiration for ... people to pursue the best traditions of Berkeley and youthful idealism," said City Councilmember Max Anderson.

Still, there are those that said they wish the protest had only spanned a few months rather than 21 months it turned out to be.

"The grove was not that significant, other than symbolically, in the grand scheme of things," said City Councilmember Gordon Wozniak said. "I'm only sorry that the anniversary isn't two years."

Contact Emma Anderson and Angelica Dongallo at [email protected]

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