Friday, August 31, 2007

SF Chronicle: Tree-sitters lose court round - Cal can keep them fenced in

Carolyn Jones,Henry K. Lee, Chronicle Staff Writers

UC Berkeley does not have to tear down a fence it erected around tree-sitters protesting plans to cut down an oak grove outside Memorial Stadium, an Alameda County judge ruled in advance of Saturday's nationally televised Cal football game.  Siding with attorneys for the university, Judge Barbara Miller of Alameda County Superior Court said late Thursday that the fence was a safety measure and did not constitute development at the site. The tree-sitters had been marooned for hours without food or water until UC police allowed supporters to give them supplies beginning Wednesday evening. Earlier that day, the university erected the barrier around part of an oak grove near the stadium, where tree-sitters have perched since December to protest UC's plans to cut down the trees to make way for a $125 million sports training center.

Attorneys for the tree-sitters argued in court Thursday that the university should take down the 6-foot-tall, chain-link fence because a judge's order earlier this year banned any development outside stadium before opponents' challenges to the training center work their way through the courts.  The new fence is a "change to the physical environment," but the tree-sitters haven't shown any evidence that it was ever part of the construction project, Miller wrote. Miller said she was not making any ruling as to whether the protesters can remain in the trees, nor on whether supporters could continue to supply the sitters with food, water and other necessities. UC officials said they put up the fence to provide a buffer between the tree-sitters and more than 70,000 football fans who will descend on the area for Saturday's game against Tennessee.

Officials said the fence was built to protect the tree-sitters from overzealous football fans, some of whom have expressed displeasure with the protesters for what they consider to be interference with the progress of Cal football. The team is ranked No. 12 in the nation in preseason polls. The campus plans to keep the fence until the football season ends in November. The tree-sitters and their supporters described the fence, which covers a 200-foot perimeter around their roosts, as a tactic to starve the current group of 10 protesters out of seven tree houses. On Wednesday, police cut a rope that protesters had configured to hoist provisions to the tree-sitters, causing a brief melee in which two protesters were arrested for battery on a peace officer and resisting arrest. During the scuffle, a protester sprayed paint on Assistant UC Police Chief Mitch Celaya.

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