Berkeley community responds to tree removal at Jacobs Hall

Michael Drummond/Senior Staff

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In preparation for the construction of Jacobs Hall, several existing redwood trees were removed from Wednesday, sparking anger and confusion from a small group of UC Berkeley students and community members.

In an email sent to the engineering community Wednesday, S. Shankar Sastry, UC Berkeley College of Engineering dean, responded to certain community members’ concerns over the trees’ removal and clarified the campus’s plans to start construction this summer. Students claim the administration has not been wholly transparent throughout the construction process, however, specifically regarding when and how many trees would be removed.

Sastry’s email stated that the majority of the trees would need to be removed from the site regardless of whether construction would take place, due to the trees’ unhealthy proximity to each other.

“This is only now something they are saying because they want the lot to be cleared,” said Thomas Hodgman, a UC Berkeley junior who opposes the construction. “The trees have been in that arrangement for a while, and no one expressed any concern about proximity until it was needed for a development.”

In response to Hodgman’s claims that the campus had “lied” about how many of the 16 trees would be removed and that they would not cut them down until the summer, Karen Rhodes, executive director of marketing and communications for the campus College of Engineering, disputed his allegations, pointing to public documents that detail a plan to remove all trees.

“(Hodgman and I) didn’t discuss removing the trees this summer, or whether some trees would remain,” Rhodes said in an email. “I wouldn’t have made either of those claims if asked. Neither would anyone else affiliated with this project.”

At the beginning of April, some protesters took part in a “tree-sitting” at the site. Due to these demonstrations, UCPD also stationed officers around the construction site.

The 24,000-square-foot space will serve as a collaborative space for engineering students, with six studios, labs and other large spaces for team-driven work.

Once construction is complete, smaller redwoods and English oaks will be planted, as well as trees along Ridge Road and LeRoy Avenue with improved irrigation.

Hodgman also expressed disapproval that the building was funded with $20 million from the Paul and Stacy Jacobs Foundation, stating a conflict of interest, because Paul Jacobs is the CEO of Qualcomm Inc., which he claims has been involved in military projects and surveillance software.

“They took away the trees, but people are still going to be at Soda Hall talking about the issues surrounding surveillance, patent rights and how the engineering department is being run by privatized interests,” said local Berkeley resident Nate Pitts.

Construction for Jacobs Hall is set for completion by fall 2015.

“I don’t plan to walk away,” Hodgman said. “The issues at stake are much too important.”

Contact Becca Benham at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter @beccabenhamdc.