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UC Berkeley tree-sitters are staying put

September 08, 2008|Richard C. Paddock | Times Staff Writer

BERKELEY — Four tree-sitters refused Sunday to come down from their perch in a redwood tree on the UC Berkeley campus despite the destruction of the grove around them that they had been trying to save.

Workers using heavy equipment finished cutting down all but two trees planned for removal -- the one that the four men were occupying and another that will be transplanted in a new location on campus.

The protesters lost their 21-month battle to preserve the trees last week when a state appeals court ruled that the university could proceed with its plans to build a new training facility for student athletes on the site.

Campus officials negotiated with the tree-sitters into the evening but could not talk them into coming down from the 90-foot tree. The university warned that its agreement to supply the tree-sitters with food and water would expire this morning at 9.

UC Berkeley spokesman Dan Mogulof said that the university's patience was "wearing thin" and that officials might take tougher action today if the tree-sitters do not surrender.

Campus Police Chief Victoria Harrison rode up in a cherry-picker and talked with the tree-sitters for more than half an hour Sunday afternoon. Afterward, Mogulof said the men had indicated that they were ready to come down.

"With the trees gone, they see their presence has no purpose," he said.

But some leaders of the protest movement were not ready to give in, and the tree-sitters were not prepared to come down until they could all reach a consensus, Mogulof said.

Mediator Peter Bluhon, who was hired by the university, spoke with the men by cellphone and discussed a proposed agreement calling for better communication between the university and the community on future development projects.

Later, a police officer attached a one-page proposed agreement to a rope, and the tree-sitters hauled it up so they could read it.

The tree-sitters face possible charges of trespassing, violating a court order and assault, Mogulof said.

They have not requested amnesty from prosecution, and the university has told them they will be arrested when they reach the ground.

The university estimates that it has spent at least $750,000 for security and police protection during the nearly two-year protest. Delays have added at least an extra $20 million in construction costs to the $125-million project, the university said.

About 50 demonstrators held a ceremony across the street Sunday to protest the cutting of the grove, which they said was one of the few natural areas left on campus. They also said it should be preserved because it might be the site of a Native American burial ground.

The demonstrators briefly moved into the street and blocked traffic.

Eric Eisenberg, a leader of the protest, was arrested. He also was arrested Friday during a demonstration.

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richard.paddock@ latimes.com

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