Wednesday, July 23, 2008

New York Times: Protesters at Berkeley Lose Legal Ground but Keep Perch


BERKELEY, Calif. — A day after a judge cleared the way for the construction of an athletic center at the University of California, Berkeley, a clutch of protesters remained stubbornly aloft on Wednesday in a stand of oaks that would be uprooted by the plan.  Judge Barbara J. Miller of Superior Court issued an order late Tuesday announcing that an injunction on the construction would dissolve in seven days, seemingly ending a lengthy seesaw legal battle over the center and the oaks. An array of opponents have argued that the plan for the $123 million center, to be built near the Hayward fault, is structurally and environmentally unsound, and Judge Miller had recently granted an extension on a 2007 injunction on the project.

On Tuesday, however, Judge Miller said the university had “submitted competent evidence” that the center would “not result in safety risks.”  University officials said the decision repeated their longstanding arguments about the center. “At this point the litigation is over, and we really hope and expect that everybody — both airborne and on the ground — will abide by the law,” said Dan Mogulof, a university spokesman.  On Tuesday, three protesters remained in a single tree in the oak grove, though the university erected a 10-foot-high fence around the grove last summer and slowly hemmed in the protesters’ access to their support teams on the ground.  Early Wednesday, the tree sitters managed to connect a new support cable between their perch and a tree about 200 feet away, allowing supplies and new protesters to reach the oak grove. On Wednesday afternoon protesters climbed across the new cable, dangling some 50 feet in the air as Berkeley police officers blocked access to the tree outside the fence.  Doug Buckwald, a spokesman for Save the Oaks, said two more protesters made it inside the fence on Wednesday. Mr. Buckwald said his group planned to appeal Judge Miller’s decision. “We feel that what the university is doing is unsafe and irresponsible,” he said. “And we believe it violates environmental laws and earthquake-safety laws.” The protesters have been living in the trees since December 2006. They are one of three groups — including the City of Berkeley — that have sued to block the project.  Mr. Mogulof said security at the protest site and delays in construction were costing the university about $47,000 a day. He also said the university’s patience was waning.  “Continuing with these dangerous and desperate acts,” he said, “just confirms we have to bring this to a safe but certain end.”


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