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Carolyn Jones, Chronicle Staff Writer
Berkeley's tree-sitters can stay in their perches despite their collection of propane tanks and increasing sanitary problems, a judge ruled today. Alameda County Superior Court Judge Richard Keller denied UC Berkeley's request to oust the protesters, who took up residence in the Memorial Stadium oak grove nine months ago after the university announced it wanted to clear part of the grove for a sports training center. Keller said the university did not supply enough evidence to show an immediate threat of fire or health problems and scheduled a full hearing for Oct. 1, 10 days after the court hears a trio of lawsuits intended to stop the sports facility. The university asked for the court order Monday when police found several propane tanks in the tree houses. There have also been an increasing number of excrement and urine spills from the tree-sitters' buckets, UC Berkeley spokesman Dan Mogulof said.
"We have a long tradition of honoring and protecting free speech on this campus, but we also have to protect the safety of the students, community and the people in the trees," said Mogulof. "This is becoming a small village, and we're seeing all the same sanitation and safety issues you see in any small village." Doug Buckwald, an activist supporting the half-dozen or so tree-sitters, said he wasn't surprised by the judge's ruling because he said the tree-sitters have an excellent safety record. He also said he wasn't surprised UC asked for the restraining order. "UC has been trying to do a number of things to stop the protest lately," he said. "They didn't like all the coverage we got at the Cal-Tennessee football game, and they really want this to be over with." Another big crowd is expected at the grove Saturday, when the Cal football teams plays Louisiana Tech. The University erected a fence around the tree-sitters prior to the Tennessee game Sept. 1 in an effort to protect the protesters from rowdy football fans.