Berkeley tree sitters defy court ruling


For some 600 days, critics have derided the Berkeley tree protest by calling it a circus. Wednesday morning, it actually took on the look of one.

Despite cyclone fences and police standing guard, protesters strung a line 250 feet across Piedmont Avenue, shuttling food, water and what appear to be various other supplies.

Perhaps one last defiant moment in the sun, now that a court has ruled the university can cut down its oak trees and begin building a new athletic training center.

"They need to understand the litigation process is over and this continuation of dangerous and desperate acts is just another sign that we need to bring this protest to a safe and certain end," says UC Berkeley spokesman Dan Mogulof.

"Unfortunately for the UC, the court is not the ultimate authority of what happens on this earth. The people are," says a protester who goes by the name 'Ayr.'

Protesters claim the oak trees as sacred Indian burial ground and a wildlife pathway. However, the university could begin clearing this area in seven days, assuming the protestors leave. Based on the day's activities, that would be assuming a lot.

"There is nothing about the preservation of a 1923 landscaping project that is worth anybody getting hurt over," says Mogulof.

But now, at least, the university has options. It could cut the line and stop sending up any food or water at all. It could offer a face-saving deal to preserve trees elsewhere or it could begin cutting down all the unoccupied oak trees, leaving the protesters without much of a cause.

What will it take to get the tree sitters down?

"Very simple, for the university to sign a legally binding document that this grove will be protected in perpetuity," says 'Ayr.'

Until then, on goes a protest that merely feels like perpetuity, both in the trees and below them.

The university is staying close to the vest on how they will be handling the situation now.

So far, this has cost the university an estimated $750,000 in administrative fees. The delay fees in connection with the construction of the athletic complex have tallied another $11 million. All told, nearly $12 million spent in the battle to save, or not save, the oak trees.

Nick Bertulis, who strung a supply line over a busy street to reach the three protestors Wednesday morning, came down from the tree and surrendered to police. The treesitters used the line to receive a fresh batch of supplies.

In exchange for taking down this line, authorities will allow sympathizers to hoist fresh food to the one tree still occupied by the protesters.

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