Berkeley Protesters Sentenced After Two Years in Tree

    Police remove the remaining protesters from the oak tree they had inhabited for 22 months on the site of the proposed athletics facility Sept. 22. (Courtesy of Skyler Reid/Daily Californian)

    Three of nine protestors involved in a two-year tree-sitting demonstration ­— in response to the proposed construction of a $125 million training facility for student athletes at UC Berkeley — have been sentenced to five days in jail, and are being held responsible by the university for thousands of dollars in legal fees.

    The protest, which ended Sept. 9 after 22 months of conflict between the tree-sitters and university police, aimed to halt the razing of an oak grove to allow for construction of the four-story Student Athlete High Performance Center, which will be used by UC Berkeley’s 27 varsity sports teams.

    The six remaining protesters agreed to a deal with the university, pleading guilty to violating an October 2007 stay-away court order by remaining in the trees or assisting those who remained. The court ruled at that date that the tree-sitters were illegally occupying university property, and denied their assertions that the protest was a legal form of free speech.

    In exchange for their surrender, protesters who accepted the deal received a lightened sentence of 50 hours of community service, and the university agreed not to seek attorney’s fees.

    “We have been working with them from the beginning,” university legal counsel Michael Goldstein said. “We told them what they were doing was illegal, we asked the judge to decide, and he agreed it was illegal. This ruling is just further confirmation of what we have said all along — they have no right to be up in those trees.”

    Carol Strickman, a Bay Area attorney with the defense, said she opposes the university’s decision to seek reparations from the three protesters who did not accept the plea bargain.

    “I think that the university is taking a hard-line stance, for whatever reason, and it’s a little too much across the board,” Strickman said. “The grove is down and everyone is heartbroken about that. People put a tremendous amount of their money and time and effort into this protest.”

    As a result of the tree-sit, the university spent over $1.5 million on security personnel, police resources and fences and scaffolding to surround the oak trees occupied by demonstrators.

    “The university has used everything from violence and deception against the tree-sitters,” Strickman said.

    She cited an October incident in which a private letter written by UC Berkeley Chancellor Robert Birgeneau became public. The letter described the opposition to the new training facility as “racism against our underrepresented student athletes.”

    “We were in awe of the magnitude of the deception of that statement,” Strickman said.

    UC Berkeley spokesman Dan Mogulof said the chancellor’s letter was referring to opposition to the proposed training facility in general, not the tree-sitters’ actions in particular.

    Though opposition to the proposed construction was not limited to that of the tree-sitters — as evidenced by the magnitude of the ground support in assisting the protesters throughout the demonstration — some Berkeley students disagreed with the protesters’ methods.


    “Regardless of how you feel about the rebuilding of Memorial Stadium — and I’m personally very skeptical of the project given its enormous cost — many students, including myself, were frustrated with the tree-sitters,” UC Berkeley senior Robert Klein said. “The sit-in was above grandstanding by a small group of people that cost the university a great deal of time and money. Most Berkeley students understand that civil disobedience is an important tool when our government fails to work as it should. But in this case, even if you disagree with the outcome, due process worked quite well and the sit-in was just an unnecessary debacle.”

    The trees in the construction area have since been cut down and construction of the new sports training center is expected to begin soon.

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