September 11, 2008

All Quiet at Grove Day After Tree-Sitters Came Down

By Kristin Bender; Sean Maher

BERKELEY -- What a difference a day makes.

The only remnants of the 21-month tree sit at UC Berkeley are the chain-link fences surrounding the former grove and the sleeping bags, musical instruments, banners and information tables on the sidewalk across the street. The stuff looks abandoned and it's not clear when police or the ground supporters will remove it.

What's left of the former tree grove is a pile of timber planned to be recycled in some way and could be used for benches atop the $125 million sports training center that UC Berkeley will build.

The last tree sitters are gone, sitting in jail, awaiting a court hearing today in Alameda County Superior Court.

The nearly constant drum circles are gone. Most of the ground support team -- the men and women who provided food and water, clothing, cell phones, and other necessities to the group -- are gone, though a core group of about 10 were outside the former grove talking "next steps'' Wednesday.

A place that bustled with activity every day for 648 days since Dec. 2, 2006, and was watched daily by police, students, motorists, residents and environmentalists -- and on a grander scale by thousands across the nation seemingly in awe of the folks in Berkeley living in trees -- is now just another street in Berkeley. There are no tourists snapping pictures of tree sitters, no grandmothers making pilgrimages with homemade pies, and no police tussles with supporters. The near-carnival atmosphere has been whisked away.

Mixed feelings remained about the end of what is thought to be the longest continuous urban tree sit in history.

"They're disappointed, not shellshocked," said Jeff Tillman, 48, a Berkeley resident who helped with ground support. "They've been in fights like this before; it's not their first rodeo. And it certainly won't be their last."

Outside the former grove Wednesday, Erik "Ayr" Eisenberg, a ground supporter, said, "I won't lie and call this a smashing success. We weren't able to save the lives of all these trees. But we're committed to continuing the fight wherever it's needed."

Four men who had been living in a single redwood to protest UC Berkeley's plans to build the sports-training center came down from their perch Tuesday afternoon after the university hired crews who, in four hours, encircled the tree with scaffolding. The four were arrested for trespassing and violation of a court order and remain in Santa Rita Jail in Dublin.

Light construction on the training center, which will take 30 months to build, will start this month with the heavy construction starting after Dec. 6 when the football season is over, university officials said. The university had once put the cost of building the center at $140 million but after recrunching the numbers and keeping project management in-house, the price is back at about $125 million, said university spokesman Dan Mogulof.

In exchange for the tree sitters coming down, their supporters said the university agreed to find new ways to get input from the community on land-use planning decisions.

"They've committed to finding new ways to work with the community, and we're happy with that, but we feel it should take the form of something solid. They were specifically vague," Eisenberg said.

But the university sees it differently.

"There was no agreement," said Vice Chancellor Nathan Brostrom following Tuesday's tree-sitter decent, adding that the university will continue to work closely with the community as it has in the past.

Correspondents Douglas Jastrow and Monica Miller contributed to this story. Kristin Bender covers Berkeley. Reach her at [email protected] Read her blog at outtakes.

Originally published by Kristin Bender and Sean Maher , Oakland Tribune.

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