Tree sitters upset at Berkeley City Council

July 25, 2008 12:08:42 AM PDT
U.C. Berkeley tree sitters and their supporters lost a powerful ally Thursday night. The City of Berkeley decided not to continue its legal battle against Cal, at least for now. Protestors made their disappointment clear.

There are four tree sitters left and their supporters are livid at the Berkeley City Council for deciding not to continue the fight against plans to build a new athletic training center. That led to heckling and catcalls at the council meeting.

"The council decided not to take action," said Berkeley Mayor Tom Bates.

Those words were all it took to get the U.C. Berkeley tree supporters all riled up.

They were hoping that the City of Berkeley would join them in appealing Tuesday's court ruling that cleared the way for the university to start building an athletic facility, on the spot where tree sitters have been camping out for the last year and a half. The city decided not to get involved, for now.

"The council was divided. We did not have the five votes so we decided by default not to pursue it," said Mayor Tom Bates.

"The inaction of city council proves that the leadership there needs to be changed, and Mayor Bates, and that they're racist toward Native People," said Zachary Running Wolf, a tree supporter.

The California Oak Foundation, which wants to save the trees, has filed an appeal of Tuesday's ruling. Their supporters were hoping Berkeley would join them because, as a city, the group would not have to post a bond to cover monetary damages from the protest. The university says the tree-sitting saga is costing $1.5 million a month.

"We need the city council to stay with us, to maintain the status quo, to stay the course on the appeal or else we are seriously, seriously putting the tree sitter's lives at risk," said Gabrielle Silverman, a former tree sitter.

Berkeley figures it's already spent about $350,000 in legal fees against the university. There was a public hearing before the decision. Tree supporters heckled the few speakers who thought the legal fees would have been better spent fixing city problems.

"I'd like to ask you to stand up for Berkeley by cooperating to see that Memorial Stadium is rebuilt which was the original objective of your lawsuit, not the trees," Linda Schact, Berkeley

Berkeley may not be out the fight just yet. The city still has the option of filing new legal action within the next 58 days, not over the tree sitters, but over issues like safety and congestion. Now that the California Oak Foundation has filed a legal appeal, a U.C. spokesman believes that sets a new legal clock in motion that may prevent the university from beginning construction for up to 20 days. It is still unclear how that fight may play out.

To learn more about the effects the tree sitters are having in Berkeley and Cal's proposed project, read The Back Story.


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