Ruling may end tree sitters' protest

August 25, 2008 7:09:29 PM PDT
The two-year standoff over a new U.C. Berkeley athletic training facility and the trees it would uproot, could finally be coming to an end. An Alameda County judge said she will promptly rule on the project, the issued a tentative ruling in favor of the university last week.

Students started arriving to U.C. Berkeley for the fall semester. Tree sitters never left. The disputed land is over a grove of trees in between Memorial Stadium and Gayley Avenue.

While the tree sitters went about their morning routine high among the redwood branches, back down on Earth, lawyers for both sides met with Alameda County Superior Court Judge Barbara Miller. Her final ruling is expected to be in favor of the university's plan for a new athletic training facility where the redwood and a grove of oaks now stands.

"What we've really done today is ask the court to enable us to move as quickly as possible through the remaining steps of the legal process. There's only one party to this litigation that's being damaged as a result to this delay and that's the university. Every passing day is costing us somewhere in the neighborhood of $50,000," says Dan Mogulof with U.C. Berkeley.

However, all Judge Miller's go ahead does is trigger the appeals process. The university has agreed to give the plaintiffs two days to file.

Steven Volker represents the California Oak Foundation and other plaintiffs, he says the appeal will hinge on the University's estimate of how much the aging Memorial Stadium is worth, which affects how much it can spend to retrofit it. That retrofitting would come after the planned new adjacent training center is done. The law governing this is called the Alquis-Priolo Act.

"Now we know that the university is refusing to comply with the Alquis-Priolo Act and we will make that argument to the court of appeal now. Before it was left unanswered, now they've answered and now the line has been drawn in the sand if you will, and the swords are drawn," says Stephen Volker, the plaintiff's attorney.

The school says it has complied and is anxious to get the new facility built because of the seismic hazard posed by the stadium.

"We welcome protests here at Berkeley, but ultimately the stadium issue has been about the safety of our students," says Robert Birgeneau, the U.C. Berkeley chancellor.

Fencing that's gone up to deal with the tree sitter saga has complicated access to the stadium.

The school says it plans special parking and other arrangements for this Saturday's home-opener football game against Michigan State.

The tree sitter's ground support group has planned, what it was calling, a community pot luck out on the street for Saturday afternoon from 3-7 p.m. The football game starts at 5 p.m.


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