Revisiting the Oak Grove

The Bear Insider spoke today with Marie Felde of Cal's Media relations. Felde is the point-person for the University for the SCIP (Southeast Campus Integrated Projects) project that includes development of athletic, law school, and business school facilities as components of an integrated campus-area plan.

At current issue is an oak grove east of Piedmont Avenue and west of Memorial Stadium in Berkeley, where protestors who do not want trees removed by the project have resorted to tree sitting in an attempt to halt construction slated to begin later this month. Heroic phrases are being employed there ..."I care more about these trees than my own body."

Felde brought that down to earth by explaining that the oak grove now occupied by protestors was initially ordinary residential garden space. When Memorial Stadium was built in 1923, the University planted all but four of the oak trees now in the grove. This perhaps weakens the protestor's claim that the grove can be characterized as old- or original-growth. It is instead, according to Felde, a grove that has been substantially planted by and cared for by the University - as have many others on campus.

Felde reinforced that by noting that the University has an excellent record of caring for and preserving trees at hundreds of substantial locations on campus properties. Many Cal grads - and current students - will fondly remember the groves and copses that sprinkle the campus and provide restful spaces between classrooms and offices.

Felde asserted that,"over-all, the campus takes excellent care of the trees present on campus, and does so at least as well as anybody in the city and perhaps the entire Bay Area."

Felde explained that several possible sites for the Student Athlete High Performance Center (the "S/A Center") were evaluated, and noted that each site had its positives and negatives. "We looked at Whitter Field, the possibility of hollowing out under the east side of the stadium, of building it inside the western wall of the stadium - and even above ground on the exterior of the west wall."

"No one wants to remove trees," she acknowledged, but said that when all the possible sites had been evaluated and merits tallied, the site below grade and west of the stadium emerged as the best of the alternatives. Every project has its trade-offs, of course, the positives and negatives that have to be weighed; per Felde the University arrived at its decisions only after lengthy and extensive studies of the issues and alternatives.

When asked about the Berkeley city ordinance that reportedly makes it illegal to cut down oaks with trunk diameters greater than 6 inches, Felde said she was not familiar with the details of that specific law - but added that the University - as a state educational entity - has a very different mission than does the City of Berkeley. She said that state laws that exempted the University from local ordinances were adopted in specific recognition of that legal reality.

"When we can (observe local regulations), we do," said Felde. "We work hard to be sensitive to local concerns whenever possible." The unspoken corollary is that when University decisions are made that conflict with local ordinances, the University may set those concerns aside in order to better serve its own mission.

Yesterday, Doug Buchwald, a spokesperson for the tree-preservationists said he hoped,"the University would choose to abide by city ordinances ...", making it clear he understood that this was the University's decision to make. On this isssue, the University's decision is clear.

The proximity of the proposed buildings to earthquake fault lines has been raised as an issue by both the tree-sitters as well as the City of Berkeley. Reports have it that the City of Berkeley may try to assert that a different sequence of building construction would provide better earthquake safety ("do the stadium first"), and the tree-sitters are claiming that the safety claimed by the University for the new S/A Center is a ruse - that no building so close to the Hayward Fault can in fact be safe. Under this mantle, the tree-preservationists adopt student safety as one of their primary objectives ("better to locate them farther away from the stadium and the fault lines.")

Felde said that according to the earthquake and safety engineers employed by the project, if a new structure does not have a fault line directly under its footprint, then if it is even 50 or 100 feet away from the fault line it is as safe as a building a mile away. She noted that (world-renown) Cal professors specializing in earthquake safety have been advisors to the design team, but did not know the extent of their role.

The University has offered to plant 140 new oak (and other varieties of) trees at or near the site of the S/A Center, according to Felde, who noted also that the band of oak trees closest to Piedmont Avenue would not be removed.

The tree-sitters argue that a mature grove provides a breadth and depth of ecosystem ("plants, animals, birds, and insects") that hundreds of freshly planted saplings could not initially replace. Without disputing the precise point, Felde expressed her belief that the extensive landscaping plan in the SCIP area will add a lot of publicly accessible open space - while also accommodating several times the numbers of trees that presently exist.

Given that the University itself planted and cared for the controversial grove, they can perhaps reasonably claim the presumption that the newly planted trees will - over time - become at least as valuable a contribution to the public space and ecosystem as the present grove.


©Copyright 2006, BearInsider.com and Scout.com. All rights reserved.

If you haven't done so already, subscribe to The Bear Insider so you can participate in this active online Cal community and get access to the members-only content from the nation-wide Scout.com network.

Bear Insider staff writers visit the Insider discussion board regularly, and are available to discuss questions you may have about this article and Cal Athletics.


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At current issue is an oak grove east of Piedmont Avenue and west of Memorial Stadium in Berkeley, where protestors who do not want trees removed by the project have resorted to tree sitting in an attempt to halt construction slated to begin later this month. Heroic phrases are being employed there ...\"I care more about these trees than my own body.\"

Felde brought that down to earth by explaining that the oak grove now occupied by protestors was initially ordinary residential garden space. When Memorial Stadium was built in 1923, the University planted all but four of the oak trees now in the grove. This perhaps weakens the protestor's claim that the grove can be characterized as old- or original-growth. It is instead, according to Felde, a grove that has been substantially planted by and cared for by the University - as have many others on campus.

Felde reinforced that by noting that the University has an excellent record of caring for and preserving trees at hundreds of substantial locations on campus properties. Many Cal grads - and current students - will fondly remember the groves and copses that sprinkle the campus and provide restful spaces between classrooms and offices.

Felde asserted that,\"over-all, the campus takes excellent care of the trees present on campus, and does so at least as well as anybody in the city and perhaps the entire Bay Area.\"

Felde explained that several possible sites for the Student Athlete High Performance Center (the \"S/A Center\") were evaluated, and noted that each site had its positives and negatives. \"We looked at Whitter Field, the possibility of hollowing out under the east side of the stadium, of building it inside the western wall of the stadium - and even above ground on the exterior of the west wall.\"

\"No one wants to remove trees,\" she acknowledged, but said that when all the possible sites had been evaluated and merits tallied, the site below grade and west of the stadium emerged as the best of the alternatives. Every project has its trade-offs, of course, the positives and negatives that have to be weighed; per Felde the University arrived at its decisions only after lengthy and extensive studies of the issues and alternatives.

When asked about the Berkeley city ordinance that reportedly makes it illegal to cut down oaks with trunk diameters greater than 6 inches, Felde said she was not familiar with the details of that specific law - but added that the University - as a state educational entity - has a very different mission than does the City of Berkeley. She said that state laws that exempted the University from local ordinances were adopted in specific recognition of that legal reality.

\"When we can (observe local regulations), we do,\" said Felde. \"We work hard to be sensitive to local concerns whenever possible.\" The unspoken corollary is that when University decisions are made that conflict with local ordinances, the University may set those concerns aside in order to better serve its own mission.

Yesterday, Doug Buchwald, a spokesperson for the tree-preservationists said he hoped,\"the University would choose to abide by city ordinances ...\", making it clear he understood that this was the University's decision to make. On this isssue, the University's decision is clear.

The proximity of the proposed buildings to earthquake fault lines has been raised as an issue by both the tree-sitters as well as the City of Berkeley. Reports have it that the City of Berkeley may try to assert that a different sequence of building construction would provide better earthquake safety (\"do the stadium first\"), and the tree-sitters are claiming that the safety claimed by the University for the new S/A Center is a ruse - that no building so close to the Hayward Fault can in fact be safe. Under this mantle, the tree-preservationists adopt student safety as one of their primary objectives (\"better to locate them farther away from the stadium and the fault lines.\")

Felde said that according to the earthquake and safety engineers employed by the project, if a new structure does not have a fault line directly under its footprint, then if it is even 50 or 100 feet away from the fault line it is as safe as a building a mile away. She noted that (world-renown) Cal professors specializing in earthquake safety have been advisors to the design team, but did not know the extent of their role.

The University has offered to plant 140 new oak (and other varieties of) trees at or near the site of the S/A Center, according to Felde, who noted also that the band of oak trees closest to Piedmont Avenue would not be removed.

The tree-sitters argue that a mature grove provides a breadth and depth of ecosystem (\"plants, animals, birds, and insects\") that hundreds of freshly planted saplings could not initially replace. Without disputing the precise point, Felde expressed her belief that the extensive landscaping plan in the SCIP area will add a lot of publicly accessible open space - while also accommodating several times the numbers of trees that presently exist.

Given that the University itself planted and cared for the controversial grove, they can perhaps reasonably claim the presumption that the newly planted trees will - over time - become at least as valuable a contribution to the public space and ecosystem as the present grove.


©Copyright 2006, BearInsider.com and Scout.com. All rights reserved.

If you haven't done so already, subscribe to The Bear Insider so you can participate in this active online Cal community and get access to the members-only content from the nation-wide Scout.com network.

Bear Insider staff writers visit the Insider discussion board regularly, and are available to discuss questions you may have about this article and Cal Athletics.

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