Tree-sitting protesters voice opposition to the construction of a design-innovation building

Michael Drummond/Senior Staff

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As the campus gears up to break ground on a design innovation building near Soda Hall this weekend, some students and vocal community members have protested near and on the site, stating concerns over the removal of redwood trees and the project’s indirect association with Qualcomm Inc.

The Jacobs Institute for Design Innovation will be a new building focused on design education and projects constructed adjacent to Soda Hall, with construction expected to begin this summer. The proposed project has aroused some public dissent, however, due to some community members’ concerns with how the building’s design will fit into the character of the neighborhood and some students’ worries over potential consequences of construction, such as potential environmental degradation.

On April 5, UCPD noted a suspicious circumstance regarding a platform in a tree near Soda Hall in its daily bulletin. Protesters said they had raised the platform into the trees and stationed themselves there in civil disobedience. Protesters say, however, that Sunday, the bottom of the trunks were cut down to prevent climbing.

The area adjacent to Soda Hall is now fenced off and guarded by a few UCPD officers. The protesters are planning to hold a demonstration Saturday during the institute’s groundbreaking ceremony.

Paul Jacobs, the executive chairman of Qualcomm, funneled $20 million from the Paul and Stacy Jacobs Foundation into the Jacobs Institute to create a space for students to learn about design and work in interdisciplinary teams. The building will have six design studios, spaces for collaboration and labs in which students can use technology to create their own products and devices.

Thomas Hodgman, a protester and a junior studying anthropology and political science, said he felt uneasy toward the institute’s association with Qualcomm and the potential for corporate controls over patent policy.

“We’re protesting cutting down the redwoods and Qualcomm, but we’re also protesting the larger trends of the university and the direction it’s taking, like with Janet Napolitano,” Hodgman said.

Sam Kirschner, however, a senior studying statistics and one of the founders of the student initiative for the Jacobs Institute, said the institute does not have any corporate partners as of now and that students including himself would push against any potential corporate involvement that doesn’t support the university and institute’s missions. The main thrust of the project is considerable student interest, he said.

“We currently don’t have much space on campus to collaborate with others,” Kirschner said. “No one wants to cut down trees, but we want to be able to expand the campus and provide more to students while not impacting the world around us too much.”

After the university launched the project, community outreach efforts have been held, including a meeting last August when neighbors were invited to come to the meeting and learn about project details, according to campus spokesperson Janet Gilmore. Since then, community input from several public meetings has been incorporated into the design, she said in an email.

In light of the protests, the campus will evaluate the situation and decide its next steps based on what it encounters, “hoping to defuse the situation” and “work with the protesters to reach a peaceful solution,” Gilmore said.

The campus plans on moving forward as planned at the original site. The trees will be removed with the intention of using the wood from the trees to build benches for the new building. The campus also intends to plant new trees in the area.

Contact Bo Kovitz at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter @beau_etc.

A previous version of this article may have implied that Paul Jacobs, the executive chairman of Qualcomm, donated $20 million from Qualcomm to fund the Jacobs Institute. In fact, Jacobs donated $20 million from the Paul and Stacy Jacobs Foundation to the institute.