BERKELEY, Calif. (AP) Score one for the trees. Citing environmental and seismic concerns, a judge blocked construction of a $125 million sports center at the University of California, Berkeley, that would mean felling an old oak grove.
The plan to renovate Cal’s Memorial Stadium and build a new training center and parking garage has been challenged by neighbors and city officials on several fronts. They said the project is environmentally flawed and it’s too dangerous to build so close to the Hayward fault, which runs through the stadium.
Plans to cut down approximately three dozen oaks to make way for the center stirred the most visible protest, with activists taking to the trees and remaining at their perch through December rains and even some minor earthquakes.
In issuing a preliminary injunction, made public Jan. 29, Alameda County Superior Court Judge Barbara Miller said opponents’ environmental and seismic-related arguments were strong enough to justify a preliminary injunction until a trial can be held.
Campus officials, who maintain their project is seismically safe and is a big improvement over the current situation, said they are considering appealing the injunction. If a trial is held, which attorneys on both sides said could be this summer, they expected to win.
“We consider this only a temporary setback,” said Nathan Brostrom, campus vice chancellor, adding that the planning process will continue. “Our goal and our top priority must be the safety of our staff and student athletes.”
But at a news conference held beneath the sun-dappled branches of the oak grove, tree-sitters smiled and waved from above, while their supporters on the ground said the ruling was good for trees and humans.
“This is an extremely dangerous site,” said attorney Stephan Volker of the California Oaks Foundation. “Furthermore, this is a grand old stand of ancient oak trees. It symbolizes much of what we cherish about California’s ecological legacy and I think it ill befits this university to chop down its cathedrals in order to promote a student gym.”
Spectators at the grove Jan. 29 included three Berkeley political stalwarts who briefly took to the trees the previous week to demonstrate their opposition — former Berkeley Mayor Shirley Dean, City Councilwoman Betty Olds and conservationist Sylvia McLaughlin.
Dean, a Berkeley graduate (Class of ’56) said she hoped administrators will take a serious look at alternative sites. Campus officials said they’ve looked and there’s no adequate substitute.
“I’m a big football fan,” said Dean. “We want this to be safe for our residents as well as for football fans.”