By Aliyah Kovner
Campus News Reporter
In recognition of the one-year anniversary of the tree sit, people came together and formed a loose semi-circle around the redwoods in the parking lot of the Physical Sciences building on Science Hill. Many of the gatherers stood at this same spot one-year ago, when the movement had its eventful start.
In 2005 UC Santa Cruz proposed a campus expansion that will eliminate 120 of forest acreage in upper campus and bring in 4500 new students by 2020. Last fall, students and community members rallied together, protesting this Long Range Development Plan (LRDP).
On Nov. 7, 2007, several individuals ascended into the uppermost boughs of the redwoods at the site of the proposed biomedical research building. One year later, the UCSC tree sitters remain perched in their places atop the redwood trees.
The history of the anti-LRDP protest is as controversial as it is complicated. The brutality demonstrated by police on the day of the tree sitters’ ascent made news headlines for weeks. More recently, the tree sitters’ were considered suspects in the firebombing at the homes of UC Santa Cruz faculty members.
The efficacy of the tree sit remains to be seen. Advocates and adversaries of the LRDP are still holding their breath waiting to see if the dedication of those individuals will alter the university’s plans.
Although the success of the tree-sit remains unclear, one of the tree sitters, who goes by the name “Sorrel,” expressed a sense of accomplishment.
“Look at this place here, it could have been a building,” Sorrel said, from a perch on a low branch. “It’s brought a lot of people together. Look at all the people here, and it has been a year. Upper campus still stands.”
Though the event was a demonstration of continuing support, participants didn’t share all concerns.
For Matthew Taylor, a writer from Berkeley, the central issue is community land use, and the failed relationships of the UC with its students and the environment.
UCSC junior Robert Abbott spoke of his concern about the LRDP’s plans for expansion on the city, before stepping up to the mossy podium to recite a passionate spoken-word blast. His rhythmic critique of mankind’s environmental apathy and social irresponsibility was met with applause.
Not all of the protesters see the issue through green-tinted glasses. College Nine fourth-year Brenda, who did not want to give her last name, sees it with the critical mindset of a tuition-paying student trying to get her money’s worth from the UC system.
“I’m worried about the students more than the trees. I love the trees, but I’m worried about compromising the education here,” Brenda said. “The class sizes will get bigger, and the buses are already so busy. And it’s only going to get worse. I’m worried that the education will go down because they passed this plan.”
She said she disapproves of some protesters’ tactics.
“I am not going to go up there myself,” Brenda said. “But I’m going to support what they’re doing.”
UC representatives stood at the edges of the protest, and though the demonstration was peaceful, the tension was evident.
“We haven’t had a relationship with the people in the trees,” UCSC spokesperson Jim Burns told City on a Hill Press in an e-mail. “They are not affiliated with the campus, and are knowingly violating a court order that clearly defines their actions as illegal.”
Jennifer Charles, the go-between for the tree-sitters and the community, said that communication has improved.
“We’ve talked a lot to faculty,” she said. “The faculty are amazing, radical people.”
And while many claim that the development plan will put the city, as well as the student population, in jeopardy, Burns points out that the plan passed after settlements with county, city and citizen groups.
“Our LRDP — reached after seven months of discussions — addressed community concerns about enrollment growth, and provided very specific ways in which the campus would mitigate its impacts on such issues as housing and traffic,” Burns said. “The tree-sitters were obviously not at the table for those discussions.”