UC Berkeley News
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UC Berkeley Web Feature

Erecting scaffold around tree and protesters
As police on cranes and cherry-pickers try to talk tree-sitters into descending, workers erect scaffolding around the protesters' tree in preparation for removing them. (Steve McConnell/NewsCenter photos)

Stadium update: A periodic briefing
Memorial Stadium project highlights & background

Peacefully and without incident, tree-sitters end their protest

– In a circus din of chainsaws, chants, choppers, and the drumbeats of recycling bins and water-cooler bottles, an audience of several hundred from protest supporters to curious onlookers witnessed the peaceful conclusion Tuesday (Sept. 9) to the 21-month-long tree-sit near the western wall of Memorial Stadium.

The finale came at 1:30 p.m., when the last of four remaining tree-sitters descended from the uppermost reaches of a lonely redwood, coaxed down by UC Police Chief Victoria Harrison, who spoke with them for several hours from a basket dangling from a crane, just feet away from the top of the 100-foot redwood, as TV news helicopters hovered above.

"Our intention all along was to try to talk them out," Harrison explained later, speaking this time from the relative comfort of the stadium's Hall of Fame Room, where campus officials held an afternoon press conference. The often-tense operation involved some 45 UC police officers, backed by dozens of workers removing branches, building a scaffold up to the sitters' "crow's nest" at the tip of the stripped-down tree, and operating cranes and cherry-pickers. The Berkeley Fire Department was standing by, as were paramedic teams.

Protesters led down by police
Police escort the first protester to end his sit-in down the scaffolding stairs.
But while there were nine arrests the four tree-sitters, all of whom were taken to Santa Rita Jail, plus five supporters charged with misdemeanors ranging from obstructing a roadway to battery on a police officer and resisting arrest the operation went off without incident, due, said Vice Chancellor for Administration Nathan Brostrom, to "the extreme patience and extreme professionalism" of campus police.

Contrary to some reports, Brostrom said there was "no quid pro quo" between the campus and the protesters. The university, he said, rejected demands to create a committee to allow for community input on campus land-use decisions, but stands by its ongoing commitment to such involvement. "It is, of course, in our interest to avoid these kinds of long, protracted delays in our projects," he said.

Police chief negotiates with protesters
UCPD Chief Victoria Harrison (right), suspended in a basket, talks with protesters perched precariously atop the redwood tree.
The protest over the proposed construction of a new Student-Athlete High Performance Center has cost the campus an estimated $1.5 million for law enforcement at the disputed oak grove, said campus spokesman Dan Mogulof.

"This has been a difficult 21 months," acknowledged Athletic Director Sandy Barbour. On behalf of the 400 student-athletes who will eventually use the new facility, she added, "I'd like to thank our fans and supporters for keeping the faith," and for "staying the course with us."

protesters on the ground
Across Piedmont Avenue from the construction site, tree-sit supporters, counter-protesters, and interested passers-by are restrained behind police barricades.
Construction will be "a 30-month project," she said, and "no heavy lifting" will be done before the end of the football season on Dec. 6.

The planned seismic retrofit of the stadium itself phase two of the project could be accelerated and finished as much as two years earlier than planned, noted Brostrom.

Meanwhile, campus officials said they were relieved that the protest had come to a peaceful end. "This truly, truly was a team effort," said Harrison, who noted the ambitious scaffolding operation was contemplated three months ago, but had to wait for this week's lifting of a court injunction against removal of the surrounding trees at the site.

Last protester put in police car
The final protester to climb down from the tree is placed in a waiting police car. Behind him, workers speedily dismantle the scaffolding that they had erected around the redwood tree only hours earlier.
The redwood that had housed the protesters was to come down later in the day in the hours following the news conference, Harrison said.