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Davis, California

Monday, May 27, 2024

To tree or not to tree

Some of you may already be aware of the tree-sitting protestors at UC Berkeley that are currently preventing the construction of a new athletic facility (and if you weren’t, you certainly are now). I’m here to tell you that this protest is ridiculous.

The proposed athletic facility, which would house state-of-the-art equipment for the football team and over a dozen other varsity sports, was approved Dec. 5, 2006. How far along is construction? Well, it hasn’t started yet. Not even a little bit. Because the site the university has chosen for the facility would require the removal of part of a grove of trees.

This prompted some local protestors to take up residence in the trees, where they’ve remained for the past 19 months. They’ve made it clear that they aren’t leaving until the university signs some kind of agreement saying they won’t harm the trees.

The problem here is that it’s never going to happen. The university has had the upper hand in this dispute from the beginning, and there’s no way they would relinquish it now. They have no reason to (and just think of how much face it would lose if it got beaten by a group of tree sitters). What’s more, the university is completely correct in its stance.

The trees that will be removed are not ancient trees. This is not a copse of vegetation that rubbed elbows (claws?) with the dinosaurs. These are oaks and redwoods the university itself planted many years ago. They planted them, they should have the right to remove them if they see fit. If there’s a plant on my property that I don’t want anymore, I have the right to remove it; why should it be any different for the university?

Even if one made the argument that, as a public university, UC Berkeley should get such an action approved by its students and faculty because, well, everybody likes trees, the argument would still fall to earth (with a resounding “Timberrrr!”) in light of the offering the university has made. Dan Mogulof, spokesperson for UC Berkeley, has been quoted as saying that the university will replace each of the removed trees with three new ones (obviously at a different location). Three!

The grove in question has approximately 80 trees in it. Of those, 44 are supposed to be removed to make way for the athletic facility. Forty-four multiplied by three is 132. I’m not great at math, but I’m pretty sure that 132 is more than 80.

The protestors should stop now! It’s been a success! The university has pledged to end up with 52 more trees than it started with!

It’s not like accommodations in tree groves are rife with luxury, anyway. The university is providing the protestors with just enough food (1,800 calorie energy bars) and water to survive. There have reportedly been at least two arboreal related injuries as a result of the protest.

Another aspect of the protest that irks me is that so few people are being inconsiderate of a great many. As of July 15, there are only three protestors left sitting in the trees. Meanwhile, 13 varsity sports teams wait for their new training facility. I would also like to point out that the University of Berkeley is a public institution; the UC system gets its money from the state budget.

UC attorney Charles Olson recently estimated that the cost of the project has grown, due to the protest, by $11 million.

I’ll give you one guess as to who’s gonna get stuck with that bill in the end.

Moreover, around 20 sympathizers have taken up residence on a street median close to the grove. The university has requested the city’s help in removing the sympathizers, pointing out that due to their presence on the street there has been a dramatic increase in the amount of jaywalking and sanitation concerns, as well as slowing traffic considerably.

All of those sound like reasonable complaints to me. If the protestors really wanted to do some good, they would climb down from their perch and make way for progress.

Progress, in this case, means stopping the financial bleeding before it gets worse, getting some college athletes their new facility and ending a headache for school administrators who should be focusing on education.

And more trees. Which is the whole point, right?


RICHARD PROCTER got one request on what to write a column about, and would consequently like to hear your views on student government at UC Davis. E-mail him your thoughts on the subject to rhprocter@ucdavis.edu.


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