By Arianna Puopolo and Toan P. Do
City on a Hill Press Editor and Reporter
Less than one month ago, the parking lot closest to the Physical Sciences Building harbored numerous political activists high up in the branches of ancient redwoods.
Today, the activists are gone and so are the redwoods.
Chainsaws and chain links are the newest residents at the construction site of UC Santa Cruz’s new biomedical sciences facility.
This particular building has been a huge source of controversy, particularly as the focal point in a growing anti-campus development movement.
On Nov. 7, 2007, a violent rally protesting the Long Range Development Plan (LRDP) turned into a 13-month stalemate when several individuals scaled the redwoods in protest of the development of upper campus.
Negotiations between the administration and activists, such as the LRDP Coalition, persisted throughout the 13-month period, but eventually failed.
“The campus didn’t have many interactions with the tree sitters,” UCSC campus spokesperson Jim Burns said. “In fact, in 13 months the people in the trees never identified themselves. Perhaps that was because their actions were defined as illegal last spring by a local Superior Court.”
In early December, the administration issued a university-wide e-mail stating that mediations would commence between the protesters and the campus.
“The mediation, which the administration initiated, illustrated the extra efforts campus leadership made to give the tree sitters every opportunity to voluntarily come down,” Burns said.
However, mediation failed, and just three days later, the university’s construction crew found the tree-sit site vacant.
The construction crew immediately sprang to action, cutting down the trees and fencing off the area. Surrounding it were dozens of police officers from all 10 UC campuses, though there were no reports of violence, according to campus spokesperson Guy Lasnier.
“When site-preparation crews began their work on December 13, one person remained in a tree, just outside the construction area,” Burns said. “That person — Scott Daniel Aposhian, 20, from San Diego — voluntarily came down when asked; he was arrested for trespassing and violation of a court order. He was taken to Santa Cruz County Jail, where he was booked.
“We were very happy that most of them had [left voluntarily], thereby avoiding a confrontation during which someone could have been injured,” Burns said.
Due to the chronological proximity of the talks and the ultimate dissolution of the protest, the content of the discussion must have influenced the immediate actions of both parties succeeding the talks.
Though Burns would not comment on the mediation or its failure, Dani Drake, a member of the tree-sit negotiation delegation, accused the administration of using the talks to bully the tree-sitters.
“The university, in my opinion, used the mediation process as a tactic to intimidate us to come out of the trees through coercive implications that we would be forcibly removed,” she said, according to a transcript of the press conference on IndyBay.org. “In terms of this campaign, the mediation was a bad faith farce on the part of the university administration.”
Senior anthropology major Leah Blair, who was involved with the LRDP coalition, said that the administration has not acted according to the will of the students.
“The university acts as a fourth branch of government, and they have their own judicial system,” Blair said. “It’s really sad. The administration fails to acknowledge what the students want even though they’re supposed to be here for us.”
With the tree-sit over, many of the people involved look back on the protest with a mixed bag of emotions. Though the protest failed in its immediate goal, preventing construction on the area surrounding the sit itself, the protest’s very presence brought attention to the cause of controlling campus development.
“I think that the tree-sit was really successful in opening up discussion about what happens on campus here on out,” Jennifer Charles, the official spokesperson during the tree-sit, said at the press conference.
“If any of you remember what the atmosphere on campus was like before this, most students hadn’t even heard of the LRDP,” Charles said. “There was no talk about it, no discussion about what direction we should move in as far as campus growth. It was all a done deal.”
The lasting impressions that the protest has left suggest that the battle between the administration and student activists is far from finished.
“[The end of the tree-sit] hasn’t really affected the movement at all because now people will seek other means of protest,” Blair said. “There are a lot of people who are still passionate about resisting the LRDP.”