Berkeley residents are organizing to oppose business interests who want to transform Berkeley’s public spaces into an antiseptic shopping mall by eliminating all of the mature trees from downtown Berkeley. The plan to cut the trees, developed by Berkeley city officials at the behest of merchants and the Downtown Berkeley Association, would “clear-cut” over 200 mature, healthy trees along Shattuck Ave. from University to Durant and along University from Oxford to Milvia.
The trees to be cut, which are a variety of species at “irregular” locations, are to be replaced with more “uniform” species in more “uniform” locations. The plan is designed to increase the visibility of commercial signs on buildings, eliminate tree-shaded places for “undesirable” people (youth, poor, homeless) to stand, and reorient the downtown towards a more commercial, uniform look. Smaller trees at regular intervals recall the more business friendly look of the thousands of shopping malls and suburban shopping districts which now dot the country.
The residents opposing the urban clearcut, organized under the name Berkeley Lorax, are supporting an alternative plan that would save the healthy mature trees plus add new trees to empty sidewalk tree wells and in the median strip between parking bays and the street. Berkeley Lorax wants any redesign to treat mature trees as individuals rather than furniture which can just be thrown out to “redecorate” the downtown. While BL is willing to see some sick or dying trees cut, and while they support pruning trees that need to be pruned, they reject the cutting of all mature trees to promote visibility of business signs or just to have “regularly” spaced and “uniform” appearing trees.
At a recent action, BL members symbolically chained themselves to the threatened trees. More actions to defend the trees could follow if the city does not adopt an alternative plan which would preserve the bulk of the healthy, mature trees in downtown Berkeley.
Concerned people are encouraged to contact the City Council and the Planning Commission to request the alternative plan. For more information or to get involved, call the Berkeley Lorax, 510-849-1902 or write to 3124 Shattuck Ave., Berkeley, CA 94705.