A 21-month occupation of an oak grove at the University of California at Berkeley has ended peacefully, but not without some dispute, as the remaining four tree-sitters descended from their perch and into police custody.
After cutting off food and water supply lines Monday morning, school officials said they were prepared to forcibly remove the activists, who had hoped to stop construction of a $125 million sports center that threatened a stand of 42 trees on campus.
But as scaffolding took shape at the base of the redwood tree housing the remaining four, the protesters indicated they were willing to descend, said campus police Chief Victoria Harrison. They slowly climbed down early Tuesday afternoon to cheers from supporters below. No one was injured.
The tree-sitters said they agreed to come down on the condition that the University of California create a land use committee that would include input from students and residents into the school's future land decisions. But a UC spokesman said there was never such a deal made, and the university has no plans for the committee.
Music and chain saws
A crowd of several hundred turned out to watch the end of the protest, some drawn by curiosity, others to show support. A group of street percussionists beat on plastic buckets and water bottles, providing a steady drum beat that competed with the occasional roar of chain saws.
The tree-sitters, none of whom were UC students, were arrested immediately by police and face charges including trespassing and violating a court order, authorities said. Five other demonstrators on the ground also were arrested and face charges including resisting police officers.
Among the bystanders was third-year forestry major Thea Chesney. She agreed with the tree-sitters' cause, although she acknowledged that made her in the minority on campus.
"It makes me really sad," she said of the felled trees. "It's just absolutely tragic what's happened."
But Nicholas Silva, a 2004 Berkeley graduate, said he didn't sympathize with the tree-sitters.
"I'm glad it's over. It's been a long time coming," he said. "It should have been over several days after it started."
City also opposed construction
The tree-sitters began their fight against the proposed sports center in late 2006, joining the city of Berkeley and other opponents in charging that the project violated environmental and earthquake safety regulations. Memorial Stadium, which is next to the proposed sports center and is scheduled for renovation under the next phase of the project, is bisected by the Hayward fault.
Protesters cycled in and out of the trees during the early months, but later were forced into a single redwood as campus officials stepped up their eviction efforts.
After many legal battles, the school got court clearance last week to begin building. By Tuesday morning, arborists had cut down 40 of the 42 trees marked for the removal. The final two that remained included the occupied redwood and another redwood officials plan to transplant.
A few hours after the protesters climbed down, officials cut down their former home, taking it down by sections. As onlookers watched, the tip of the tree that for weeks had symbolized protest 80 or so feet up in the air swung to the ground via crane.
The campus has promised to plant three new trees for every one cut.