Berkeley Tree-Sitters Finally Down To Earth

Published on
by
The San Francisco Chronicle

Berkeley Tree-Sitters Finally Down To Earth

by
Carolyn Jones

Ending a nearly 2-year protest, the final tree-sitter waves to the crowd moments before he comes out of the redwood tree. (Mike Kepka / The Chronicle)

BERKELEY, Calif.  -
With a short jump onto a scaffolding platform, four tree-sitters
peacefully ended a 649-day standoff with UC Berkeley on Tuesday over
the university's plan to cut down a grove of trees to build an athletic
training center.

The protesters voluntarily climbed down from an 80-foot redwood next
to Memorial Stadium about 1:30 p.m. after four hours of negotiations
with UC Police Chief Victoria Harrison as she hung in a basket
suspended from a 200-foot-tall crane.

After shouting "We love you!" to a crowd of about 500 supporters and
onlookers on the ground, the sitters surrendered to police, who
arrested them on misdemeanor charges of trespassing, violating a court
order and illegal lodging. They were taken to Santa Rita Jail in Dublin.

The encampment, which began Dec. 1, 2006, and included at its peak
more than a dozen people living on limbs of oak and redwood trees, was
one of the longest tree-sits ever, falling short of Julia Butterfly
Hill's 738-day stay in a coast redwood in Humboldt County a decade ago.

"We are extremely relieved this has ended and no one was hurt," said
Vice Chancellor Nathan Brostrom. "Today's operation was brilliant in
design and operation."

The university planned to chop down the redwood by today, clearing
the way for construction of the $124 million training center. The plan
was delayed nearly two years after the city of Berkeley, a
tree-advocacy group and stadium neighbors filed lawsuits alleging that
the project was not safe because of its proximity to the Hayward Fault.

Protesters said they decided to come down when university officials
agreed to include the community in future land-use decisions. The
tree-sitters had also asked the university to donate $6 million to
environmental and Native American groups and give them the stump from
their favorite tree from which they would create a drum. The university
earlier agreed to give up the stump but later withdrew the offer when
talks stalled.

University officials said they did not bargain with the tree-sitters
but had already planned to engage the community in future land-use
decisions.

The protest ended because the scaffolding, which was installed
Tuesday morning and built up until it reached a platform just below the
treetop, made it impossible for the tree-sitters to fight back or
escape, officials said.

"I think they realized our ability to remove them was possible," Harrison said.

Police identified the tree-sitters as Armando "Mando" Resendez, 20;
Ernesto Trebino, 18; Raul "Huck" Colocho, 27; and Michael "Shem"
Schuck, 26. Schuck made headlines in March when he spent 17 days in an
oak near Wheeler Hall in the center of campus.

Emotional responses

On a campus with a long history of demonstrations and radicalism,
the 21-month tree-sit ignited fierce reactions. Cal football fans were
enraged over the delays to the training facility, while some
environmentalists decried the plans to remove trees from the urban
campus.

The city joined the fray in December 2006, filing a lawsuit that
said the athletic center would bring more development to one of the
most inaccessible, seismically unsafe parts of town.

The protesters hoped to save 40 or so oaks, redwoods and other trees
in the 1.2-acre grove. At one point, about 15 people were living in the
trees, gliding on ropes between tree-houses, cooking on camping stoves
and chatting with onlookers.

After Alameda County Superior Court Judge Barbara Miller ruled
mostly in the university's favor in July, campus police began arresting
tree-sitters and clearing out their encampment. Police left four
protesters in a single redwood, giving them daily allotments of water
and energy bars and hoping they'd come down voluntarily.

The Berkeley City Council voted last month not to join the other two plaintiffs' appeal of the judge's final ruling.

On Friday, a day after a state appeals court denied the plaintiffs'
request to delay construction, the university began removing trees from
the grove. Weekend negotiations with the tree-sitters proved fruitless,
and the protesters' provisions were cut off at 9 a.m. Monday.

At 8 a.m. Tuesday, work crews began erecting scaffolding around the
redwood and positioned cherry-pickers beneath the tree-sitters'
platform. Harrison, Assistant Police Chief Mitch Celaya and two other
officers spent much of the morning talking to the protesters from a
basket hanging from a crane, while a crowd of gawkers slowly gathered
below.

Some of them erupted in cheers when arborists fired up chainsaws on
the redwood's few remaining branches, while others watched in shocked
disbelief at the unfolding spectacle and some appeared forlorn the
protest was ending.

The tree-sitters' supporters spent Tuesday burning sage sticks,
beating drums, shouting encouragement to their arboreal cohorts and
scuffling with police. Five people were arrested for blocking traffic,
battery on a peace officer and other misdemeanors, authorities said.

Protesters seem relieved

After nearly two years of rallies and sit-ins at the grove, many
protesters seemed relieved when the tree-sitters finally descended
safely.

"It could have ended better, but I'm so glad no one got hurt," said
Berkeley resident Gianna Ranuzzi, who'd been around the grove since the
protest began. "It's not the end, though. Just the end of a chapter."

Added Steve Sutter, a Berkeley resident: "It's embarrassing for
Berkeley. I'm disappointed in the police chief that she let this go on
so long. I wasn't a backer of this athletic center, but the
tree-sitters made me a backer."

Freshman Vincent Tran of San Jose said he was fed up with the protest and was happy to see it end.

"It's outrageous. We need the new facility for our safety," he said. "The trees should have come down a long time ago."

Joey Grassick, a senior civil engineering major, questioned the protesters' tactics.

"Honestly, I think there's a better way they could have gone about
saving these trees," he said. "But it's nice we won't have to hear
about it anymore."

Trees of contention

Key dates
in the 649-day battle over UC Berkeley's plan to cut down trees to
build a $124 million sports training center next to Memorial Stadium:

Dec. 1, 2006 Activist Zachary Running Wolf and a
woman climb into a pair of oaks before the Cal-Stanford Big Game to
protect 42 trees from being felled for the center.

Dec. 20, 2006 The city of Berkeley, a tree advocacy
group and stadium neighbors sue UC, saying the planned center is unsafe
because of its proximity to the Hayward Fault.

Jan. 29, 2007 Alameda County Superior Court Judge
Barbara Miller bars UC from building on the site until the lawsuit is
resolved. Tree-sitters number half a dozen.

Aug. 30, 2007 Miller says UC can keep tree-sitters behind a chain-link fence to protect them from football fans.

July 22 Miller rules that UC can build the center
after it agrees not to hold non-football events at the stadium and
scratches plans for a beam connecting the stadium and training center.

Sept. 4 A state appeals court refuses to block construction, and UC cuts down 40 trees in the next three days.

Sept. 9 The four remaining tree-sitters climb down
from the top of an 80-foot redwood, one of only two trees still
standing near the stadium.

 

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