By Richard Brenneman
Thursday June 26, 2008
Tensions escalated outside UC Berkeley's Memorial Stadium Sunday,
following a confrontation between Berkeley City Council-member Dona
Spring and campus Assistant Police Chief Mitch Celaya.
Spring, who uses a wheelchair because she has severe rheumatoid
arthritis, demanded access to the city-owned sidewalk on the west
side of Piedmont Avenue, where university police have blocked off the
To police, the sidewalk is now an ongoing crime scene, so declared
after supporters of the 18-month-old tree-sit in the adjacent grove
used to it re-supply the protesters in the branches above.
"I want access to the sidewalk," said the councilmember. "You don't
have the right to keep me off the sidewalk."
"It's a matter of public safety," said Celaya.
"You're endangering my safety," Spring replied.
Moments later, Celaya backed away and the crowd of protesters surged forward.
What happened next wasn't visible to a reporter, but someone breached
two sections of the police barrier, triggering a tug of war between
protesterswho hoped to force their way in with food, water and other
supplies for the tree-sittersand Celaya and his officers.
It was Celaya himself who led the counter-charge, struggling to bring
the two now widely separated barriers together with the help of other
officers while protesters struggled to pull them apart.
In the midst of the fray, police arrested Matthew Taylor inside the
barricade, where he joined the ranks of prominent supporters arrested
in recent days for their attempts to send food to the nine remaining
He was followed to the pokey a little more than an hour later by
Terry Compost, another activist prominent in her support of the
Police earlier had arrested Ayr, perhaps the most visible of the
supporters, and at least five other supporters have been arrested in
Following the confrontation at the barriers, protesters managed to
block the northbound lane of Piedmont Avenue, forcing hapless
motorists caught in mid-protest to back out of the scene.
Meanwhile, lawyers for both sides in the ongoing struggle over the
university's building plans for the Memorial Stadium area were
rushing to prepare rival documents for Alameda County Superior Court
Judge Barbara J. Miller, who will issue her conclusive order after
reviewing both submissions.
Lawyers challenging the adoption of building and financing plans by
the UC Board of Regents were up first, submitting their documents
Tuesday, with the university's response due by Friday.
Just how badly the tree-sitters needed food remains in dispute, as
does the condition of their health.
Dr. Larry Bedard, a former president of the American College of
Emergency Physicians, and forensic psychologist Dr. Edward Hyman
spoke to tree-sitters by walkie-talkie, with Bedard running through a
list of symptoms Sunday afternoon.
Afterward, both said they were concerned for the health and safety of
"Personally, I think what is going on is cruel and inhumane
treatment," said Bedard, who serves on the staffs of St. Mary's
Hospital in San Francisco and San Mateo General Hospital and is a
partner in his own medical group.
But a few minutes later, university spokesperson Dan Mogulof said
that tree-sitters had told police that they were well-supplied with
food and water and in good health.
While Mogulof said there was no immediate plan to send supplies to
the tree-sitters, he denied one media accounta headlinewhich
charged the university with trying to starve the protesters out. The
newspaper subsequently withdrew the headline.
By Sunday, there were nine protesters left, by now confined by the
action of the university's contract arborists to a single tree which
is crowned by a hefty beam topped by the small wooden box where
tree-sitter Dumpster Muffin has repeatedly confronted the civilian
workers who have slashed the lines that once enabled the arboreal
activists to flit from tree-to-tree.
Both Berkeley Mayor Tom Bates and City Councilmember Laurie Capitelli
have urged the university to provide food and water to the
tree-sitters, but neither has offered support of their protest.
Capitelli's council colleague Dona Spring has been a strong supporter
of the tree-sit, and has led a thus-far-unsuccessful effort to enlist
the backing of the council and City Manager Phil Kamlarz.
Spring said she was also concerned that the university had extended
their barriers to the city-owned median strip on Piedmont Avenue.
"The university has been acting illegally," she said, "and I applaud
these people (the tree-sitters and their allies) for their continued
civil disobedience. We want to stop this corporate giant from
crushing our community and poisoning the air we breathe"
Meanwhile, Mogulof was stressing his own talking point while
discussing the grove, which he repeatedly labeled "a 1923 landscaping
project" during Sunday's short press briefing.
Tree-sit supporters have portrayed the grove as both a memorial to
fallen soldiers from World War I and a Native American burial ground.
While he spoke to print reporters seated at the foot of an isolated
oak between Maxwell Family Field and the Kleeberger Parking Lot,
Mogulof insisted on moving to a new spot before the TV cameras rolled.
"I don't want to leave the impression I'm speaking from the grove," he said.
Tree-sit supporters, conversely, held their own press briefing at the
trunk of a tree, albeit across Piedmont Avenue on the lawn of the
Haas School of Business.
Mogulof said that nothing in last week's court decision by Alameda
County Superior Court Judge Barbara J. Miller would block the
university's decision to build at the site of the grove.
The university plans to build a four-story high tech gym and office
complex along the stadium's western wall, and the lawsuitfiled by
Spring, the city, a neighborhood group and
environmentalistschallenged the university's approval process for
Mogulof said the university would file papers with the court that
answered issues raised by the judge in last Wednesday's decision, and
that it was hoped that construction would begin soon afterwards.
Also on hand to speak at the press conference held during Sunday's
rally were former Mayor Shirley Dean, Free Speech Movement veteran
Neal Blumenfeld, two Native American activists, two medical experts
and Oakland attorney Carol Strickman, who is representing the tree-sitters.
Asked to describe the difference between the Free Speech Movement
(FSM) activism of the early 1960s and the new millennium's protest at
the grove, Blumenfeld said "the major difference is in the movement,"
which had a broad base of support in four decades ago.
"The university's behavior," he said, "is exactly the same."
In addition to their larger numbers, said Blumenfeld, a psychiatrist,
FSM members carried out extensive research on university funding and
the revenues of Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, which he
called "the huge industrial park on the hill."
Dean said she had come to address three points. First, the fact that
Judge's Miller's restraining order barring university construction
activites at the grove remains in place; second, the charge that the
university's behavior was "absolutely unacceptable" when they denied
supporters the opportunity to furnish the tree-sitters with new
supplies and, finally, to urge both sides to reach a compromise in
which both sides gave up something to reach a livable accommodation.
Among those watching the day's events was Barbara Gilbert, who said
that it wasn't the fate of three trees that worried her as much as
"the university's takeover of our Southside" and the "$25 million to
$30 million a year demands it makes on city services."