Tree-sitter hauled from perch in UC Berkeley grove
Demian Bulwa, Charles Burress, Chronicle Staff Writers
One of the activists who have perched in a grove outside UC Berkeley's Memorial Stadium for the past year and a half was hauled out of her tree Tuesday, as the university began removing tree-sitters' gear in advance of a judge's ruling that could lead to a climax in the long-running protest. The tree-sitter was taken down by two arborists who were part of a crew hired by the university to remove wooden platforms, pulley systems and other infrastructure that the protesters have built high above the ground as part of their effort to keep the university from cutting down trees to make way for an athletic training center. Other protesters said they knew the woman taken out of a tree at 4:30 p.m. only as "Millipede." Doug Buckwald, director of a group called Save the Oaks, said she was "an experienced tree-sitter" but did not know how long she had been in the branches. The two arborists were in a cherry-picker that banged into the trunk of the tree where the woman was perched, Buckwald said. "She screamed, and they grabbed her," he said. As many as a dozen tree-sitters were still in the branches, 12 hours after the crew of arborists guarded by about 40 UC police officers showed up to start removing the activists' gear. University spokesman Dan Mogulof said one of the arborists had been trying to wrap duct tape around a rope when the tree-sitter bit him on the arm. The other aborist wrestled her into the cherry picker and took her to the ground, where she was arrested, he said. The woman had dumped a bucket of urine on two arborists earlier in the day, Mogulof said. UC police did not identify her.
The arborists and workers hired by the university dodged human waste and other debris throughout the day as they cut ropes that ran from one tree to another and removed supplies that protesters had stored in the branches. The university launched the operation one day before an Alameda County Superior Court judge was to release a ruling on a lawsuit filed by the city, tree advocates and a neighborhood group seeking to block construction of the training center.
Mogulof said the operation was timed to prevent more protesters from ascending the grove of oaks, cypress, pines and other trees when Judge Barbara Miller issues her decision Wednesday. No matter how Miller rules, Mogulof said, "this remains a dangerous and illegal occupation of university property." Mogulof said some of the tree-sitters were "using their own waste as weapons" against police and the arborists, who were from a private firm. Some sitters dropped excrement, but none scored a direct hit, Mogulof said. One arborist was punched twice in the face by a tree-dweller, he said. Although the arborists removed at least one large structure and several ropes, much of the infrastructure that activists have set up since they first climbed the trees in December 2006 remains. In the tops of the tallest trees, the protesters have built at least three large structures of 15 by 15 feet out of wood boards, canvas and white sheets. Food bowls, waste buckets and shopping bags were visible Tuesday in one of the structures, perched atop a cypress tree at least 100 feet above the ground. A 75-foot line runs from the cypress to another tree; on Tuesday, a protester sat in a fabric chair attached to the rope midway between the trees. The chair travels to the lower tree by gravity, and to the upper tree via a pulley system that the tree-sitters have rigged up. "This is a very difficult challenge," Mogulof said. "We're going to do this in a way that minimizes the chance that anyone gets hurt, whether a police officer or a protester." Buckwald said the activists had vowed to "stay up in the trees until the trees are safe, until UC guarantees they will not cut the trees down." The tree-sitters' fate is not directly tied to the lawsuit that Judge Miller is due to rule on today. Another judge has already said the university can remove the protesters, but UC has not moved against them since gaining permission in October. UC wants to cut down 44 of 87 trees in the grove to build the training center, and says it would replace each lost tree with two saplings and one mature tree. All but a few of the trees were planted by the university after the stadium was built in 1923. The lawsuit that Miller will rule on seeks to block construction of the $123 million training center on the grounds that it would be built atop an earthquake fault and thus violate state law. The Hayward Fault runs under Memorial Stadium. The city of Berkeley, a neighborhood group and the California Oak Foundation have argued that the training center would be part of Memorial Stadium and thus exceed earthquake-zone building limits. The university argued that the stadium and proposed training center would be separate buildings, and that the center would not be directly atop the fault. The proposed training center would serve more than 400 athletes in football and 12 other varsity sports.