Opinion: UC Berkeley was devious when it had crews cut down 42 trees at People’s Park

The action was similar to what happened on May 15, 1969, when Gov. Reagan brought a non-union fencing company in at 4 a.m. without warning to fence off the park.

After crews cut down about 40 trees in People’s Park on Dec. 28, this is what this is what the southeast edge of the park, where Hate Man used to hang out, looked like. Photo: Frances Dinkelspiel

I have been immersed for the past year in the history of People’s Park in 1969 as I wrote a book for Heyday Press to be published in 2019 during the 50th anniversary of its creation. I feel that I know as much about the park’s early history as anyone. I am not an absolute partisan when it comes to the future of the park, but the events of Dec. 28 make it harder for me to think that the university is an honorable player in the debate over the park’s future.

In the very early morning hours of Dec. 28, a tree removal company contracted by the university arrived at People’s Park and in the next hours removed around 40 trees.

The university was devious. It chose the deadest day of the deadest week of the year to launch a 4 a.m. surprise attack on the park. It was unannounced and happened without notice, let alone debate or a chance of community input.

The university was arrogant. Nothing says “this is mine and I will do what I want,” better than a gang of chainsaws and earth-moving equipment tearing up stumps. It was an unabashed, shame-free power move.

The university was calculating. It chose the time and day for its assault and did so without public notice so as to minimize criticism or protest, knowing that the scars it left in the park would dishearten the park’s supporters and bolster the university’s effort to make the park as unattractive as possible.

The university was disingenuous. They claim that three trees were dead and needed to be removed. What about the other 40-something trees? They claim that branches were getting close to power lines, but they did not use licensed line clearance tree trimmers to do the work. (I know this because the union I lead represents all union tree trimming companies.) They claim that the operation was routine maintenance. Whoever came up with that claim thinks that we are stupid. Routine maintenance at 4 a.m. on a Friday in the middle of the winter break? Really?

What the university did on Dec. 28 could have been taken directly out of the university’s playbook in 1967 when it seized and demolished the homes and apartments along Haste, Bowditch, or Gov. Reagan’s playbook. The chancellor clearly learned from Gov. Reagan, who brought a non-union fencing company in at 4 a.m. on May 15, 1969, without warning to occupy and fence off the park. The university here brought a non-union tree trimming company in at 4 a.m. to decimate the park’s trees. President Reagan is looking up from whichever circle of hell he lives in and is chuckling at the celebrated scholar of Victorian literature doing just as he did.

What kind of a lesson is this for the university to teach its students? To get what you want, be devious and dishonest – if you want it, take it and damn the fall-out. This is not the way that the Park’s future should be decided.

Tom Dalzell writes the Quirky Berkeley website and is the author of a forthcoming book on the 50th anniversary of the creation of People's Park.