UC Berkeley will remove 42 trees from People’s Park. Photo: Frances Dinkelspiel

Editor’s Note: This story was updated after publication to include details from the park Friday morning. Frances Dinkelspiel was reporting from the scene.

UC Berkeley started to remove about 40 trees from People’s Park early this morning, prompting outrage from the park’s community of activists and those without homes.

Tree chippers and work trucks pulled into People’s Park in Berkeley before 6 a.m. — during the university’s winter break — to take out the trees and prune a number of others.

The work “will address long-deferred maintenance needs at Peoples Park” and is “just one of 15 similar projects taking place across the campus during the winter break,” according to a prepared statement from the university. About 16 medium to large trees at the park, and 25 smaller ones, “will be removed down to grade level.”

Workers from Expert Tree Service started cutting down trees this without incident. However, the removal disturbed a number of those who make People’s Park their community, with at least three people saying they would face arrest to prevent the cutting of three trees on the south side of the park.

Lisa Teague, Russell Bates and a man who did not give his name sat in front of three trees marked to be cut down. Photo: Frances Dinkelspiel

“They are killing the culture of the park,” said Russell Bates. “They are removing trees that don’t need to be removed. It’s like clear-cutting… without warning. This is sneaky.”

A UC Berkeley police officer predicted no arrests would be made. Instead, the tree company will leave up the three trees to avoid a confrontation, the officer said. [Editor’s note: The trees were not cut down.]

Tom Dalzell, who is writing a book on the 50th anniversary of the creation of People’s Park for Heyday, said the way the university started the cutting in the early morning hours during winter break was “backhanded.”

“They way they are doing it is so reminiscent of the way they (the university) dismantled that block back in 1968,” said Dalzell. “And what they did in 1969. The university is so arrogant and dishonest. You don’t do it this way. It is reminiscent of Reagan.”

The list of trees to be removed — which tallies 42 — include a giant sequoia, a Torrey pine, two Mexican palms, a walnut tree, four bigleaf maples, two coast live oak, one stone pine, two black oak, one tanoak, three deodar cedar, seven Victorian box, seven firs, five plum trees and one each of mimosa, loquat, maple, Japanese black pine and cherry laurel.

The university said there are three reasons for the work: interference with lighting due to the “broad canopy”; leaning trees that are approaching power lines; and tree health — three dead trees “must be removed” and seven others have “large hazardous bark branches that must be cut as they are in danger of splitting off and falling.”

The university said “many of the trees to be removed or pruned are currently interfering with lighting due to the large size of the existing trees and the broad canopy. There are also sections where trees are planted too close to each other, impeding light under them.” The trees near power lines “must be trimmed to address a potentially hazardous situation.”

People’s Park tree cutting on Dec. 28, 2018. Some of the trees are coming down because they are too close to power lines, UC said. Photo: Frances Dinkelspiel

UC Berkeley said work equipment, including two tree chippers and two trucks, was slated to arrive at the park Friday at 5 a.m. Tree removal and trimming was set to begin at 6:30 a.m. Then, at 10 a.m., workers will start “hauling away material” in a large trailer.

The work has nothing to do with Cal’s plans to build housing at People’s Park, the university said. Construction related to the housing is not set to begin until summer 2020.

“Deferred tree maintenance” is happening across campus Friday, the university said. It’s being done over the winter holiday to “minimize interruptions” in the interest of efficiency, according to the prepared statement. The fall semester ended Dec. 14. Spring semester starts Jan. 15, according to UC Berkeley’s academic calendar.

Elsewhere on campus, workers are set to remove trees at the old art museum, the Women’s Faculty Club, the Boalt parking lot and the Jean Gray Hargrove Music Library. Pruning projects are planned in several other locations, including Hearst Gym, Sproul Plaza, West Crescent, Sather Gate, Wurster Hall and the Hearst tennis courts on Berkeley Way.

Berkeleyside has asked UC Berkeley whether any of the trees were planted when the park was founded, and about the size of the largest trees that are coming down, among other questions. This story will be updated when additional information is provided.

At the end of the tree-cutting, this is what the southeast edge of People’s Park, where Hate Man used to hang out, looked like. Photo: Frances Dinkelspiel

Emilie Raguso (former senior editor, news) joined Berkeleyside in 2012 and covered politics, public safety and development until her departure in 2022. In 2017, Emilie was named Journalist...