Tuesday, July 22, 2008

SF Chronicle: UC Berkeley can build athletic training center, judge rules

UC Berkeley can build its proposed athlete training center, an Alameda County Superior Court judge ruled late today, handing a crucial victory to the university in a protracted battle marked by a highly publicized protest by tree-sitters since December 2006.  The long-awaited ruling by Judge Barbara Miller said the university has overcome the legal barriers to the project, which has been blocked by a court injunction since February 2007.  Miller said the injunction can be lifted in a week. She postponed the removal of the injunction for seven days to give opponents an opportunity to appeal to the state Court of Appeal.

The decision came as a blow to the three plaintiffs that sought to block the facility - the City of Berkeley, the California Oak Foundation and a neighborhood group, the Panoramic Hill Association. Miller ordered them to pay 85 percent of court costs.  "We're very pleased with the ruling," said Charles Olson, lead attorney for the university. He said the court costs haven't been tallied yet but that they would be in the six figures.

Stephan Volker, attorney for the California Oak Foundation, said the group will file an immediate appeal, possibly as early as Wednesday. He said he's confident that the Court of Appeal will overturn Miller's decision.  Three protesters remain in one tree at the site where the university wants to cut 44 trees in a grove of oaks, redwoods and cypress to build the student-athlete facility next to the stadium.

The protest at one point was waged by a dozen or more tree-sitters on platforms on several trees, but the aerial encampment was sharply reduced in June in a crackdown by the university - including removal of several platforms, blocking supporters from providing food and water and grabbing a couple of protesters out of the trees. Several protesters voluntarily came down.

One of the former tree-sitters, Erik Eisenberg, better known by his protest name "Ayr," said tonight that the tree-sit will continue despite the ruling.  "Our response is the same as it was on day one," he said. "We'll leave after the university signs something legally binding to protect the trees in perpetuity."  Campus spokesman Dan Mogulof said the university has several options for its next steps but that no decisions had been reached as of tonight.  City of Berkeley spokeswoman Mary Kay Clunies-Ross said the city council will have to discuss what the city's response will be. At tonight's council meeting, Mayor Tom Bates announced that the council will take up the issue in a closed session at 5 p.m. Thursday, Clunies-Ross said.

An earlier ruling by Miller largely favored the university but listed some obstacles that must be overcome. Miller's ruling today said the campus resolved those issues by agreeing to withdraw a plan to add several major events to the stadium and to forego a beam connected the training center with the stadium.


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