BERKELEY, Calif. -- 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 that
would mean felling an old oak grove.
The plan to renovate Memorial Stadium and build a new training
center and parking garage has been challenged by neighbors and city
officials on several fronts. They say 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 about three dozen oaks to make way for the
center stirred the most visible protest, with activists taking to
the trees last month and remaining at their perch through December
rains and even some minor earthquakes.
In issuing a preliminary injunction, made public Monday, 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 expect to
"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
"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 Monday included three Berkeley political
stalwarts who briefly took to the trees last week to demonstrate
their opposition -- former Berkeley Mayor Shirley Dean, 71; City
Councilwoman Betty Olds, 86; and conservationist Sylvia McLaughlin,
Dean, a Berkeley graduate (Class of '56) who met her husband on
campus, said she hopes administrators will take a serious look at
alternative sites. Campus officials say 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."