BERKELEY — Most involved with Cal's football program had to see it to believe that the proposed Student-Athlete High-Performance Center project was under way.
They became believers when the team bus pulled into Berkeley on Saturday night, and they could actually see the side of Memorial Stadium.
The removal of nearly every tree occupying the site where the facility is to be built opened up a view of the stadium never seen before. It set off cheering by the Bears, who were returning from Pullman after their game against Washington State. The removal project began Friday.
"It was dark, but all the trees were cut down," linebacker Zack Follett said. "Everyone started cheering. It looked real weird. To see our stadium like that from the side view was pretty neat."
A state appeals court denied requests Thursday by two community groups to continue to prevent construction of the facility. That was the last of several legal hurdles the university had to navigate before the project could commence.
While the Bears were traveling Friday morning, the trees started coming down. By the time they returned Saturday night, all but two of the trees were gone.
"I was amazed how much they did in one day," said coach Jeff Tedford, who has long sought improvements to the school's athletic facilities. "We left, and we knew what was happening. We came back and all the trees are down. I'm thankful for our student-athletes that now they are going to have a new facility. I'm thankful for the administration and all the people that have worked so hard and spent a lot of time and energy and money to get this done. I'm just happy we're going forward with it."
Tedford was informed about the court's decision by athletic director Sandy Barbour after practice Thursday night and said he was told the trees would start coming down the next day. But after a series of appeals and legal rulings continued to delay construction of the center, Tedford had become a bit gun-shy.
"I was excited to see it," he said. "I'm excited that there's progress, that we're going forward. There have been so many times that we've been told one thing only for a disappointment to happen — not because of anyone's fault, just because there was one more hurdle thrown in front of us. I kind of got into the mode that I didn't care what's said and I'm not going to listen to anything until I see what happens. There were just too many obstacles in the way."
Cal had hoped to begin work on the facility at the end of 2006, but Alameda County Judge Barbara Miller issued an injunction halting construction until three consolidated lawsuits were heard. Miller initially ruled mostly in Cal's favor in June, and last week's ruling ended a string of legal maneuvers that finally brought some finality to the case.
Cal held its weekly press luncheon Tuesday at Memorial Stadium, at the same time news helicopters hovered outside while authorities negotiated with four protesters occupying one of the last trees still standing at the construction site. The protesters later relented and the redwood tree they occupied was cut down. The remaining redwood is supposed to be replanted on campus.
"It's a circus out there, no question about it," Tedford said. "You're kind of used to it by now. If you sit in my office every day, you get a little callous to what's going on because every day there's an event. Somebody is chanting something or beating a drum or doing something. You really get where you don't pay much attention to it. It's not much different than what goes on every day, except for a few (cranes) and helicopters."
Contact Jonathan Okanes at email@example.com.