Community members gathered at People’s Park on Sunday to honor the trees that were cut down during the first day of UC Berkeley’s student housing construction operation on the park Aug. 3.
The event began with a morning art session to decorate a memorial to the park’s redwoods and palm trees and the garden’s fruit trees that were cut down. More than 100 community members assembled at the park in the afternoon for the memorial, several partaking in singing, dancing and open mics.
“We’re doing art,” said June Nelson, a campus graduate, during the event. “There’s also going to be a demonstration against Expert Tree Services, the subcontractor that the UC paid to cut down all the trees, to tell them to end their contract with the university and to leave People’s Park alone.”
According to Nelson, at least 47 trees were cut down during the early morning operation, damaging a “whole ecosystem” at the park that included red-tailed hawks, rare bird species and several squirrel nests.
Community member Elisa Smith said many of the felled trees had been planted in memory of community members who advocated for the park in the past and that activists have arranged to build altars at the trees’ stumps. Nelson noted that she saw people “sobbing” after the cutting of certain symbolic trees.
“Each tree has a story,” Smith said at the event. “We planted one 20 years ago for my mom from Redwood City, and that one was cut too.”
In recent weeks, community members have organized to preserve the standing apple and orange trees and to plant “food for the community.” One individual was watering three recently planted redwoods — each about a year old.
During the open-mic portion of the memorial, people expressed support for People’s Park, voicing stories about the park, reciting songs, praying and dancing.
“How many beautiful fruit trees were killed? A lot,” said local resident Lurch Morrison as they surveyed the park’s garden. “There was a cherry tree, a peach tree, a pomegranate tree, a plum tree, a fig tree, an elderberry tree and more.”
While she does not agree with campus’s approach to the situation at People’s Park, campus junior Cecilia Lunaparra recognized the need to address the local housing shortage. She added she was against construction at People’s Park and noted other plots of land the university has available for development.
Campus spokesperson Dan Mogulof maintained in a local radio forum that to address the current lack of student housing, campus must develop on all available properties in close proximity to campus.
Even though Lunaparra said she was saddened due to the cutting of the trees and its aftermath, she expressed optimism about the community gathering.
“The memorial was beautiful,” Lunaparra said. “It was great to see the community coming together. Seeing people who really, really care about this green space.”