In February I passed along to you an item from the San Francisco Chronicle about protesters at the University of California trying to prevent removal of some trees on the Berkeley campus. Nearly a year after the protest began, the University is still trying to move forward with its project, according to this item from the Chronicle on October 30:
UC officials can remove all the tree-sitters at Memorial Stadium, even if police can’t identify the protesters by name, a judge ruled Monday.
“This ruling means it’s all but impossible for reasonable people to see this protest as something benign,” said UC Berkeley spokesman Dan Mogulof. “It’s an illegal and dangerous occupation of university property.”
UC officials are “evaluating” how to proceed, Mogulof said. Tree-sitters and their supporters could not be reached for comment on the ruling.
. . .
The protesters have been perched in part of an oak grove next to the stadium since December in an attempt to block the university’s plan to cut down about two-thirds of the grove to build a $125 million athletic training center.
. . .
Meanwhile, the tree-sitters have expanded their network of platforms, tarps and ladders to form a small village in the foliage, complete with propane stoves, musical instruments and an elaborate highway of ropes and pulleys.
Monday’s court order gives UC police more authority to arrest, cite and detain the tree-sitters, who are in violation of campus lodging rules. Tree-sitters could face $1,000 fines and five days in jail for violating the order.
. . .
Whether UC can build the training center could be resolved by another Alameda County Superior Court judge, Barbara Miller, who is expected to rule by mid-January on a lawsuit filed by the city, tree advocates and neighbors who seek to block plans for the center.
My first reaction: don’t the “tree sitters” have jobs?
Note that according to the last paragraph of the news item, the University is still fighting a lawsuit by “the city, tree advocates and neighbors” trying to prevent construction of the University’s project. Maybe I have a warped perspective on such things, but I can’t help thinking: why is it that when a property owner wants to build something, neighbors and others think they can dictate what the property owner can or cannot build?
This situation illustrates the distinction between a government regulating the use of property within its jurisdiction (an established government function) and outside actors attempting to make land use conform to their own agenda (a concept that should be anathema to the private property rights that are basic to our system of government).
Unless there is some special circumstance here that I’m missing, the University is an arm of the State of California, and therefore shouldn’t be subject to regulation by any local government. Hence, the usual local government bodies that regulate land use (the city and/or county through their planning and zoning agencies) shouldn’t be able to control what the University does with its land.
As for the “tree advocates and neighbors,” they are simply private actors who don’t want the University to use its property. Other than as constituents of the legislative body that decides what the University is going to build, they have no legal right to dictate how their neighbor uses its land.
Really, where does this notion come from, that if I don’t like what you are going to do with your land, you should be prohibited from doing it?
COMING NEXT MONTH: WHY YOUR LIVING TRUST PROBABLY ISN’T “DEFECTIVE”
An alert reader has just passed along to me an unsolicited letter she received from a law firm billing itself as “Arizona’s premier estate planning law firm.” The letter carries the bold heading, “What If Everything You Knew About Living Trusts Is Dead Wrong?” It goes on to assert that most people’s estate planning documents “fail them at every turn” and are “defective.” The way to get started on getting your “defective” documents fixed is, of course, to attend that firm’s “free Legacy Wealth Planning Seminar.”
Next month I’ll walk you through, and debunk, the claims in that letter. In the meantime, if you received the letter, I’d like to know about it.