The People's Park.
An arborist surveyed all 155 trees in People’s Park in July 2014 and recommended 77 be removed. The university said it would focus on cutting down an estimated 29 next week, and pruning others. Photo: Ted Friedman

UC Berkeley plans to remove an estimated 29 trees in People’s Park and prune and stabilize others next week, during the university’s spring break, as part of what it describes as necessary safety and maintenance work.

The decision was taken after consultation with an arborist who identified a significant number of trees as being potentially hazardous, according to Christine Shaff, director of communications in UC Berkeley’s Real Estate office. Some trees in the park, which is Cal property, have been identified as in poor health or potentially hazardous and need to be removed, the university said, while others will be preserved with thinning or with support systems.

The issue came to light at Tuesday night’s Berkeley City Council meeting when one member of the public suggested UC Berkeley was going to remove all the trees in the park, as well as its permanent stage. The speaker, who did not identify himself, said he had been alerted to the proposed work by the Berkeley campus student government group, the ASUC, and he called for people to resist the move. He declared next week to be “People’s Park Defense Week”: “It is going to be a hardcore Occupy. It is going to be the battle for People’s Park,” he said. “It’s going to be like December all over again.”

Shaff said two trees fell in the park in December during storms. Nobody was injured, but the university wants to take action now to avoid potential accidents in the future.

In a statement posted on UC Berkeley’s Real Estate department website, the university posted a link to the report prepared by the arborist HortScience Inc. of Pleasanton, which reviewed all 155 trees in the park last July. The report highlighted the park’s range of species, which includes Live Oak, Camphor, Canary Island Pine, Douglas Fir, Redwood, Pussy Willow, Monterey Cypress and Plum.

The analysis concludes that only nine of the park’s 155 trees are in “excellent” condition; 41 are in “good” condition; 71 are in “fair” condition; and 34 are in “poor” condition. The report concludes with a recommendation to remove 77 trees and preserve 76.

Shaff said the university will not remove that many, however. She said it will focus on those classified as number 2 (using a 6-point scale where 0 = dead, 1 = in poor condition and 5 = excellent — see Table 3 of the report on page 12 for details). Twenty-nine trees are classified as 2.

The stage at People’s Park is a safe haven for rats, according to UC Berkeley’s Christine Shaff. Photo: Tracey Taylor

The week of March 23 was chosen for the work “to mitigate any impacts on nearby residences and activities, as it is Spring Break week and the campus is expected to be quieter than it is when classes are in session,” read the statement.

Shaff said the exact start date has not yet been confirmed.

Shaff said there are no plans to remove the stage. However she added: “We do have concerns about the stage as it is a safe haven for rats.” She said the regular food hand-outs to the park’s homeless population that happen around the stage leave debris that attracts the rodents. “We would like to figure it out,” she said.

Shaff said the university had not anticipated advising students of the intended park work.

Asked whether the university would be taking any measures as a result of the talk that people might try to stop the arborists’ work, Shaff said the university takes all threats seriously, but would not be closing down the park.

“We need to ensure the safety of the people working on the trees and those in and around the park, but we will not be putting the park on lock-down,” she said.

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Tracey Taylor is co-founder of Berkeleyside and co-founder and editorial director of Cityside, the nonprofit parent to Berkeleyside and The Oaklandside. Before launching Berkeleyside, Tracey wrote for...