The Berkeley City Council tonight rejected UC Berkeley's offer to scale back its plans to renovate the area around Memorial Stadium. After listening to two hours of comments from the public - including tree-sitters, Old Blues and students - the council voted 7-1-1 to not accept the university's offer to settle a city lawsuit that aims to block Cal's plans to build a $125 million sports training center next to Memorial Stadium where tree-sitters now occupy part of an oak grove. "The council felt very strongly that this offer doesn't address the city's concerns," said Berkeley Mayor Tom Bates. "In fact, it's not even at a standard for which we should even respond." UC Berkeley Vice Chancellor Nathan Brostrom said he was very disappointed with the council's vote. "They seem to have closed the door to an honest discussion," Brostrom said. "We would like to collaborate and cooperate on this. They've chosen the winner-take-all environment of the courtroom. I'm honestly baffled." The university had offered to halve a proposed 900-space parking garage, to ask its governing Board of Regents for money to retrofit the 84-year-old stadium and to plant three trees for every one that would be removed to build the state-of-the-art facility. The city wants the training center moved farther from the Hayward Fault, which bisects Memorial Stadium, and wants seismic retrofit work to begin immediately.
In addition to the city, two other groups have filed suit to stop the renovation plans for the southeast corner of campus. The California Oak Foundation, loosely affiliated with a half-dozen protesters dwelling in the trees next to the stadium, wants the oak grove to be preserved, while the Panoramic Hill neighborhood association wants the training facility moved elsewhere and use of the stadium greatly curtailed. If settlements can't be reached, all three suits will be heard in Alameda County Superior Court on Sept. 19. Earlier Tuesday, a new community group, called Stand Up for Berkeley, held a rally outside City Hall to urge the council not to settle with UC. Country Joe McDonald, former Berkeley Mayor Shirley Dean and other speakers said the stadium needs to be fixed, the grove should be saved and the settlement discussions should be done in public rather than in closed session. McDonald, a Vietnam War veteran and renowned folk singer, noted that the stadium is a memorial to Californians who died in World War I. "If you chop down those trees you desecrate the memory of those brave Americans who died in service to our country," he said. "Let those trees be a living memorial to them."
All but two or three of the 140 trees in the grove were planted after the stadium was built in 1923. The university said it needs to build the training facility to create safe quarters for the 350 athletes who train in Memorial Stadium. After the new facility is completed, the university said it can proceed to retrofitting the stadium. A group of tree-sitters has been living 40 feet above the ground near the stadium since December. They are living in tree houses and receive food and water from supporters who send up rations using a system of ropes. Last week, the university erected a chain-link fence around the part of the grove where the protesters are roosting, saying the barrier was needed to separate the sitters from thousands of fans attending Cal's football games this year. An Alameda County judge rejected the sitters' bid to order the university to remove the fence.