Berkeley tree sitters wage court battle

June 30, 2008 12:00:00 AM PDT
The Berkeley tree sitters and the university were back in court on Monday. The protestors tried to convince a judge that the school put lives in danger by trying to force them out of the trees.

It is the protest that never seems to end. The university intends to build a new athletic training center next to the stadium, where oak trees still stand, on top of the Hayward earthquake fault. It's a battle that the university is slowly winning in court with an emphasis on the word 'slowly'.

Rarely have so many, remained so diligent to keep their eyes eye on so few, who moved so little. This is what it has come to after 18 months of tree sitting outside U.C. Berkeley's memorial stadium: A few police, a dozen of yards of fence, and lawyers in court again.

"What is not safe is sitting in a tree 40 to 60 feet above ground," says U.C. Berkeley attorney Michael Goldstein.

At issue on Monday was tactics. Tree sitters challenged the university for trying to physically prod protestors to the ground earlier this month.

"They seriously endangered lives and it is a miracle that no one has been injured or killed yet," says protestor Millipede.

The video they showed judge Richard Keller features a tree sitter named 'Squirtle' dangling by one arm. They describe him as being traumatized. The judge didn't buy tha, nor the argument that by potentially cutting off food and water to the protestors, the university could endanger their lives.

"Well, you're going to have somebody fall out of a tree if you deny them food and water. It's going to happen. The question is when," says William Simpich, attorney for the tree sitters.

"Should they, to their own misfortune, fall out of the tree, I don't think it can be placed at the doormat of the university," says Judge Richard Keller of the Alameda Superior Court.

For now, the university provides water and power bars, and will continue to do so, but nothing more. Spokesman Dan Mogulof says that time and property will eventually prevail.

"This is a 1923 landscaping project, not an oak grove forest. It is not worth anybody getting injured or having their health permanently damaged over," says Mogulof.

"What do we do now? We'll keep giving them hell. That's what we'll keep doing," says Squirtle.


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