Thursday, July 24, 2008

SF Chronicle: City of Berkeley Won't Appeal UC Ruling

Charles Burress, Chronicle Staff Writer

Angry shouts of "Shame! Shame!" erupted in the Berkeley City Chambers Thursday night after the council declined to appeal a court ruling against the city allowing UC Berkeley to build an athletic training center next to Memorial Stadium.  The conflict has drawn wide attention because of a 20-month protest by tree-sitters at the project site who have demanded that UC preserve the grove of more than 80 oaks, redwoods and other trees next to the stadium.  The city had sued - along with stadium neighbors and a tree preservation group - to block the project. The other two plaintiffs plan to appeal the case.  The council decided in closed session, and the boos came after Mayor Tom Bates announced the panel lacked the necessary five votes to authorize an appeal. He said the council has 58 days to change its mind.

Thursday's session began with impassioned public comments from foes of the UC plan, followed by the council retiring into a back room. The meeting was called in response to the long-awaited decision Tuesday by Alameda County Superior Court Judge Barbara Miller, who said Cal may proceed with the project.  The vast majority of dozens of speakers Thursday night, including representatives of neighborhood associations, had urged the appeal. Opponents of the appeal included the Berkeley Chamber of Commerce.

Several tree-sitter supporters marched with signs from the grove to the council meeting and cheered loudly for speakers backing the appeal. The facility, estimated to cost about $124 million, would be built for Cal's football team and other athletes where the grove stands. The campus said it would cut 44 of the 87 trees in the grove and that it would plant three trees for each one cut down.

Athletes now use cramped, aging quarters inside the 1923 stadium, which sits on top of the Hayward Fault and is considered to be hazardous in a major earthquake.  Bates said he was encouraged by assurances from Cal on Thursday indicating readiness to move forward on the city's wish that the stadium be seismically retrofitted soon. The costly refit is part of the university's long-term plan, though it still requires approvals and funding. The illegal occupation of the trees continues. "This is day 601 - we're not giving up now," said Gabrielle Silverman, also known as the former tree-sitter Millipede, who was pulled down from the trees by UC-hired workers last month.  The project was blocked by a court injunction in February 2007, following lawsuits against the project by the city, the California Oak Foundation and the Panoramic Hill Association. The foundation and association have said they will appeal. Miller's ruling let the injunction against the project remain in place for a week to allow an appeal.

Critics say the facility should go elsewhere. Some say the trees deserve protection, and some say the site is seismically dangerous and that the project would create serious traffic problems for the car-congested neighborhood of narrow streets, a special hazard in disasters.  Some tree-sitter supporters also say the site is an American Indian burial ground, although no conclusive proof has been brought to light. The tree-sitters have varied in number. Four were in the closely guarded grove Thursday. The tree-top encampment was significantly reduced last month after the university dismantled all but one of the arboreal platforms and lines linking several trees. Two protesters were wrestled down and several voluntarily climbed down because of increased hardship caused by UC's crackdown.  The campus agreed Wednesday to allow more food in exchange for the removal of a new supply line that protesters had rigged from a tree on campus.

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