BERKELEY — University officials say people living and sleeping in the wide street median outside the UC Berkeley tree-sit are creating a messy, dangerous and noisy situation with their tents, litter and drumming circles.
But the people in the tents — who act as ground support for a handful of people still living in a university oak grove — say their small encampment is there to protect the grove, help those still perched in the trees and keep a watchful eye on university police, with whom they've sparred in the past.
"It's dangerous. We are getting complaints from people who work in that area (on Piedmont Avenue)," said UC Berkeley spokesman Dan Mogulof. "It's become People's Park 2."
About a dozen people have erected two or three small tents in the past few weeks in the median along Piedmont Avenue near Gayley Road. There, they are sleeping at night and eating, making art, drumming and monitoring the police 24 hours a day, seven day a week, ground supporter Gabby Silverman, 25, said Monday.
"There's been no injuries because of our occupation of the median," said Silverman, a former tree sitter. "We are careful and we are respectful of the (neighbors) and the large forces in the world, such as the trucks and cars and buses."
Three people remain living in a single redwood in the grove. The university is allowing one bag of food and water to go up daily. Ground supporters are out there to monitor that exchange and help bring awareness to the long-standing protest, they say.
The occupation of the median comes about six weeks after the city put up barricades on the sidewalk outside the tree grove. The ground supporters previously had their tables and other supplies on the sidewalk near the two chain-link fences that the university had built last year.
"The university built the first fence last August and the second fence in November and then when they put up the barricades, they thought they could get rid of us," Silverman said. "But we won't go away. The fact is we are holding this space. It's still our grove and we aren't going anywhere."
The university and the city are haggling over whose job it is to remove the median dwellers.
The median is city property. Neither the Berkeley Police Department nor the university police chose to remove the group; it seems neither wants to be the bad guys.
"I think it would be appropriate for the city to take action. It's a city ordinance (trespassing, illegal lodging) they are violating," said UC police Chief Victoria Harrison, who sent a letter to Berkeley city officials last week requesting they city take action.
The letter is under consideration, said police Lt. Andrew Greenwood. "From our perspective, our primary concern is safety and it doesn't appear there is an urgent safety issue there," Greenwood said.
City spokeswoman Mary Kay Clunies-Ross said city leaders are keeping an eye on the situation. "If and when it becomes necessary we will take appropriate action at the appropriate time," she said.
University officials said there have been complaints about the median dwellers urinating and defecating in nearby neighbor's yards, but Silverman said that's not true.
"There are businesses that are friendly toward us (and let people use the bathrooms), and I think in general people are supportive. We try to maintain good relationships with the neighbors," she said.
People began living in the oak and redwood trees to the west of California Memorial Stadium in December 2006 to protest the university's plan to build a $140 million sports training center for its sports teams. Three groups — the city of Berkeley, the Panoramic Hill Association and the California Oak Foundation — sued to stop the sports center project. Last month, an Alameda County judge ruled in the university's favor, saying UC Berkeley can move forward with the project.
But the Panoramic Hill Association and the California Oak Foundation filed an appeal and an injunction that had been in place for more than 18 months was extended through Aug. 13. It could be lifted next week.