Friday, January 12, 2007

Berkeley Daily Planet: Judge Orders Hearing for Suit Against UC

By Richard Brenneman

With a tentative date for a hearing on an injunction to impose a freeze on UC Berkeley construction plans at Memorial Stadium set for Jan. 23, attorneys were negotiating Thursday to define terms for an interim agreement. Meanwhile, the tree-in protest by opponents of the university’s plans to fell a stand of native Coastal Live Oaks next to the stadium entered its 42nd day today (Friday).  In a ruling issued Tuesday, Alameda County Superior Court Judge Frank Roesch ordered consolidation of three of the four lawsuits challenging the $300 million-plus in UC Berkeley development projects planned at and near the stadium.  A second hearing Thursday morning ended with the county court’s Presiding Judge George Hernandez setting the Jan. 23 hearing before Judge Barbara Miller in the court’s Hayward Branch.

Attorney Stephan Volker, who represents the California Oaks Foundation, said the judge rejected a request by UC Berkeley attorneys to issue a court order demanding the removal of protesters who are camped out in the branches on trees slated for demolition if the projects are approved. “They wanted to be able to erect a fence around the trees and to remove a redwood tree and to announce the contract for removal of the trees,” Volker said. “They want all the protesters out of there.” The tree-in has drawn national media attention, most recently with a major article in Thursday’s USA Today. The redwood in question is the current abode of Zachary Running Wolf, the former Berkeley mayoral candidate who launched the tree-in Dec. 2 by ascending the branches of a redwood in the grove adjacent to Memorial Stadium’s western wall. The activist was cited last month and ordered off-campus for a week, but he returned last week and reclimbed the redwood—where he is currently one of a half-dozen protesters inhabiting the foliage of the grove. It is that same tree the university asked Judge Hernandez for permission to ax. “They also asked for permission to prune the trees, and we’re negotiating that,” Volker said.  “I’m still here,” Running Wolf said Thursday afternoon, speaking by cell phone from his plywood platform high up in the threatened redwood. Told that the university had singled out his perch for destruction, the activist replied, “Of course. They know it’s our power base.”

As attorneys for the City of Berkeley, the Panoramic Hill Association and the California Oaks Foundation negotiate with university officials, the protesters are continuing to organize.  UC Berkeley students from Lothlorien Hall, a vegetarian coop at 2405 Prospect St., have joined the protest are occupying one of the six trees.  “We are hoping to get more coops involved, and we are going to be organizing among students when they return on the 15th,” Running Wolf said.  The protesters have also strung lines between five of the six trees they occupy that will allow quick traverses from one tree to another if university officials attempt to remove them from the branches, Running Wolf said.  “We’re really excited. We want to used the protest as an educational tool for understanding the importance of trees in the environment and the need to preserve old growth,” he said.  While the media’s attention has been drawn to the arboreal environmentalists, more pragmatic concerns have driven the city’s lawsuit, which charges that the university failed to consider all of the environmental impacts of a set of projects that will cost at least $330 million and result in massive loads of outgoing excavated earth and incoming building materials on crowded city streets.  Another concern is the impact on city emergency services and surrounding neighborhoods in the event of a disaster affecting projects built on or near the Hayward Fault, rated by federal geologists as the likeliest site of the next major Bay Area earthquake. All of the suits allege the university violated both the California Environmental Quality Act and the Alquist Priolo Act, which governs construction on active faults. A fourth suit, relying on similar grounds, was filed by fans of Tightwad Hill, the slope above the stadium where fans watch games for free. Volker said he expects that action to be joined with the others.  Levelling the grove is the crucial first step to develop the first of the university Southeast Campus Integrated Projects—construction of a 132,500-square-foot, four-story gym and office complex demanded by Cal Bears football coach Jeff Tedford before he would accept a seven-figure contract to coach what had been a losing team. Another demand, for renovations of the stadium itself, is slated to occur later in the course of the projects.


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