Groups to sue UC Berkeley over planned tree removal
San Francisco Chronicle 12/19/06
The suit, to be filed in Alameda County Superior Court, alleges that the university is violating environmental and earthquake laws by removing 42 oaks, California laurels, redwoods and other trees to build the training center, which will sit nearly on top of the Hayward Fault.
The $125 million training center, which the UC Board of Regents approved two weeks ago, will provide offices and facilities for the Cal football team and about 100 athletic department staff members.
"What are the regents thinking? That football is going to give us clean air?" said Janet Cobb, executive director of the Oakland-based California Oak Foundation, the lead plaintiff. "You can certainly understand the regents' dilemma, but people are very adamant that these oaks be saved."
A preliminary hearing is scheduled for Thursday morning, at which Oakland attorney Stephan Volker will ask for a temporary restraining order to stop the project. The plaintiffs want the training center moved to the opposite side of campus or to the waterfront, which they say will be seismically safer and will spare the oak grove.
On Dec. 2, the day of the Big Game against Stanford, a group of activists climbed two oaks and a redwood and vowed to stay until the university promises to move the training center elsewhere. The activists have been sleeping under tarps draped over plywood planks and eating food provided by a ground crew.
The city of Berkeley also plans to file suit, probably this week, against UC over the expansion plans. The city's suit focuses on public safety, claiming the project will bring more people to a dangerous earthquake and fire zone that's accessible only by a narrow two-lane road.
Last week, a group of homeowners, the Panoramic Hill Association, also sued UC over the project on similar grounds. In addition, the residents said, the expansion plans will adversely affect their quality of life, bringing more traffic and noise to their normally quiet hillside.
UC says the project has been thoroughly reviewed for safety and environmental impacts, and the new center will provide safer facilities for those who work and practice at 83-year-old Memorial Stadium, which is scheduled to be retrofitted after the training center is built.
"The campus believes it has met all the requirements of the California Environmental Quality Act in evaluating the environmental impact," said campus spokeswoman Marie Felde.
UC will plant three trees in the same area for every one it removes, she said.
The trees are scattered on 1.2 acres west of the stadium along Gayley Road. An inventory commissioned by the university identified 65 oaks, 25 pittosporum and eight redwoods among other trees in the grove, a few of which predate Memorial Stadium.
Two tree-sitters have been cited for trespassing. On Wednesday, UC police cited former Berkeley mayoral candidate Zachary RunningWolf when he came down from the tree to do a radio interview, and on Thursday police cited Kingman Lim, a recent UC Berkeley graduate. Both were banned from campus for seven days and face up to six months in jail and a $1,000 fine.
Otherwise, the scene has been peaceful, said UC Police Assistant Chief Mitch Celaya. Officers check on the tree-sitters' welfare throughout the night and make sure they're not sleeping for long periods, which would constitute lodging and is illegal on campus, Celaya said.
The tree-sitters, most of whom are students, rotate shifts so they can attend final exams and go to work, if necessary.
Also listed as plaintiffs in addition to the California Oak Foundation are Berkeley City Councilwoman Dona Spring, Zoning Adjustments Board member Sara Shumer, the tree-sitters -- represented by a group called Save the Oaks at the Stadium -- and several Berkeley residents.
"To me, that grove is as beautiful as any man-made structure," said Spring, who just began her fifth term on the council. "That huge canopy, all those colors -- it really makes your heart sing. It's so peaceful and magical, you feel like you're in Mendocino."
Meanwhile, the tree-sitters' ground crew has built a tepee in the oak
grove and plans a winter solstice celebration at 5 p.m. on Dec. 21,
to which the public is invited.