Judge halts Oak Grove project

A woman calling herself 'Dumpster Muffin' confronts workers hired to take her out of the tree.
June 19, 2008 12:44:56 AM PDT
Alameda County Superior Court Judge Barbara Miller issued a mixed ruling today that initially pleased both supporters and opponents of the University of California, Berkeley's controversial proposal to build a new sports training center next to its football stadium.

Tree sitters have been trying to save an old Oak grove outside UC Berkeley's Memorial Stadium. Wednesday's ruling was not about the tree sitters or forcing them to come down. However, with the injunction standing in place, lots of tree sitters are happy.

University of California, Berkeley officials claimed tonight that a judge's long-awaited ruling has given them the green light to build a controversial new sports training center next to the university's football stadium, even though the stadium is on an earthquake fault.

Speaking at a hastily-called news conference at the Haas Pavilion on the university's campus, Vice Chancellor Nathan Brostrom said, "The University has prevailed on virtually every legal issue" in litigation that began shortly after a UC Board of Regents committee approved the training center project in December of 2006.

Brostrom said, "Make no mistake: we will be able to build at the site" next to Memorial Stadium, which is 85 years old.

However, Alameda County Superior Court Judge Barbara Miller kept in place an injunction she issued on Jan. 29, 2007, which temporarily stopped the project.

The university's attorney, Charles Olson, who joined Brostrom at the news conference, said he will study Miller's 129-page ruling, which was issued about 6 p.m. today, more closely to see how long it will remain in place.

Olson said that based on his initial reading of Miller's ruling it's unclear how long her injunction will stay in place.

Although Brostrom and Olson claimed that UC-Berkeley prevailed on all but a few technical legal points, opponents of the project said that while Miller's ruling is a mixed decision, they believe it's a victory for them because it doesn't allow the university to begin construction immediately.

Stephen Volker, the attorney for the California Oak Foundation, one of three plaintiff groups in the case, said he's "very pleased" with Miller's ruling because she ruled that some aspects of the university's project violate a state law that bans alterations or additions to existing structures that are on earthquake faults.

Volker said Miller also ruled that the university's environmental review of the project "is deficient in several respects."

Julie Sinai, chief of staff to Berkeley Mayor Tom Bates, said Berkeley officials, who joined the lawsuit against the project, believe that Miller's ruling stops the university from going ahead with the project at this time.

Bates said he hasn't had time to study the ruling but he believes "the university won some things and the city won some things."

Bates said he and other Berkeley officials will have more to say about the ruling at a news conference Thursday morning.

Olson said the university prevailed "on every issue but two minor technical issues" and Miller rejected nearly all of the allegations by the plaintiff groups, which also included the Panoramic Hill Association, which represents people who live near the football stadium.

He said one of those key findings is that although the training center is very close to the seismically active Hayward Fault, it isn't actually on the fault.

Olson said, "The judge has indicated that the training center can be built" and he believes the university can address the judge's concerns on the remaining issues very soon.

Miller has asked the plaintiffs and the university to file additional legal papers next week to address the remaining issues.

Brostrom said that if Miller approves the project, the university hopes to put it out to bid soon and begin work quickly, although it may have to work around the football season in the fall.

Brostrom said that although the university initially estimated that the project would cost about $125 million, construction costs have escalated in the last 18 months and the latest estimate is that it would cost about $140 million.

He said university officials estimate that it will take two-and-a-half years to complete the training center, which he said will have 158,000 square feet and serve about 400 athletes from football and 12 other sports.

Late Wednesday night developments:

University of California, Berkeley spokesman Dan Mogulof said three people associated with a long-running protest at a grove of oak trees next to the university's football stadium were arrested late on Wednesday night.

However, Mogulof said none of those arrested was one of the tree-sitters who have lived in the trees since a UC Board of Regents committee voted 18 months ago to approve a project that calls for tearing down the trees so the university can build a new sports training center next to the stadium.

Mogulof said one protester was arrested for vandalism, one was arrested for violating a court order barring them from aiding and abetting tree-sitters and one person was arrested for attempted robbery.

Mogulof said university police officers and arborists engaged in a second day of removing pulley systems, wooden platforms and other gear used by the tree-sitters.

Mogulof said a remaining group of eight or nine tree-sitters have been consolidated to a single tree.

Previously, tree-sitters were perched in a number of different trees.

UC Berkeley Vice Chancellor Nathan Brostrom said the past two days have been "very long and difficult days for police officers and arborists" in trying to dismantle the tree-sitters' infrastructure.

Mogulof said university officials "showed a great deal of tolerance" in not removing the tree-sitters during 18 months of litigation over the training center project but now that the litigation is winding down the university believes the tree-sitters must leave.

Brostrom said that although the university won a court ruling many months ago allowing it to remove the tree-sitters, it didn't act aggressively before because "we didn't have the resources, such as police officers."

Brostrom said, "We just couldn't afford to do it strategically before" because the university would have had to pay officers to maintain the oak grove site after protesters were removed.


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