Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Oakland Tribune: Two more tree sitters make it into tree, bring food and water

By Kristin Bender

BERKELEY — Two new tree sitters used a rope-and-pulley system strung 70 feet above ground to maneuver themselves into a redwood at UC Berkeley's tree grove Wednesday, a day after a judge ruled in favor of the university's plans to cut down the trees for a sports training center.  The new arrivals bring to five the number of people living in the redwood, but tree-sit supporters said the action wasn't necessarily prompted by the ruling.  Rather, they said, it was an attempt to get food to protesters after the university cut off supplies about a month ago. "It was real food, it wasn't this processed sugar-and-flour stuff that they've been having them eat," said Doug Buckwald, a spokesman for Save the Oaks at the Stadium. In addition to the sitters, six bags of food and water were moved into the trees. No one would say what type of food was in the bags. The line was strung 80 to 100 yards across Piedmont Avenue from a tall redwood in the parking lot between the Haas School of Business and the Boalt Hall law school, west of the grove, to the redwood in the grove.  Tree sitters have been living on a 2,400-calorie diet of energy bars and water supplied by the university since campus officials cut off supplies from outside groups.  "These people were obviously very committed and had a plan and executed it flawlessly," Buckwald said. "There have been ideas and plans for getting more tree sitters into the trees for some time now."

People have been living in the trees since December 2006 to protest the university's plans to build an athletic training center west of Memorial Stadium, where 44 trees stand. On Tuesday, Alameda County Judge Barbara Miller ruled in favor of UC Berkeley in its long battle to build the $140 million center.  An injunction in place for 18 months will be lifted Tuesday unless plaintiffs in a lawsuit to stop the project file an appeal and get the injunction extended. The project was challenged by the city of Berkeley, the Panoramic Hill Association and the California Oak Foundation.  The California Oak Foundation has already said it will file an appeal, and the Berkeley City Council will meet in closed session at 5 p.m. today to discuss the possibility of filing an appeal. The council needs five yes votes to move forward with an appeal. With the July 13 death of City Councilmember Dona Spring, an avid tree-sit supporter, there are currently only eight members on the council. Grove supporters are marching from the grove to Old City Hall on Martin Luther King Jr. Way to speak to the council before it meets.  Asked if the move to add more people to the tree Wednesday was directly related to the judge' decision, Ayr, the chief spokesman for the tree sitters who goes by one name, said, "Yes and no. I think people have been wanting to get them more proper nutrients for quite a long time and people were inspired to rise up because of the ruling, but mostly because of the inadequate food supplies."

UC Berkeley spokesman Dan Mogulof said police are assessing the situation in the grove to determine an appropriate course of action. "These very dangerous and desperate acts are the exact reason we have to bring this protest to a safe but certain conclusion," Mogulof said. Late Wednesday, Mogulof said the UC police and Ayr agreed to conditions for health and safety concerns. The tree sitters must agree to take down the lines stretching across Piedmont Avenue; lower their waste daily; stop all efforts to bring in supplies from outside groups; and stop all efforts to take down or storm the barricades, Mogulof said.  UC police agree to supply sitters with a bag of food daily, one of the two tree sitters who went up Wednesday will come down, and if he has no outstanding warrants he will be released; the police will give 72-hour notice if they intend to "forcibly remove any tree sitter or end this agreement." Meanwhile, the university says the delays are adding up. Since the approval of the project, the cost to build the center for the university's football team and 12 other teams has ballooned by more than $11 million, said UC attorney Charles Olson. What's more, security and rising construction costs are costing the university an estimated $47,000 a day, Mogulof said. The university has spent about $700,000 on police and security in the past 18 months, Mogulof said.

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