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Indybay FeatureRelated Categories: East Bay | Global Justice and Anti-Capitalism
Redwood Grove Destroyed Day After Earth-Day For Qualcomm Executive-Director
On April 23, the the day after Earth-Day, the 'More Redwoods, Less Surveillance' grove behind Soda Hall in Berkeley was destroyed by the Professional Tree Care Company, as requested by the UC regents and the Qualcomm executive director, Paul Jacobs. The Caterpillar equipment arrived at 7AM, on what was the Wednesday before Arbor Day. The Paul Jacobs Design Institute (Jacobs Hall) could have been built on an available and larger lot adjacent to the engineering library, would have not necessitated the cutting down of the grove. Members of the public were lead to believe the UC would leave some trees on the north-west corner of the lot, yet all the trees were removed.
The Paul Jacobs Design Institute is part of an ongoing partnership between the UC and Qualcomm. UC regent Sherry Lansing joined the board of Qualcomm in 2006, receiving a director’s fee of $135,000 and over $1million in Qualcomm stock. (http://www.spot.us 'UC Investor's Club'). In return, the UC then quadrupled it's investment in Qualcomm to $397,000,000. The corporation also has a branding presence on UC Berkeley campus at the 'Qualcomm Cafe'. Now the executive director (former CEO and son of the founder) of Qualcomm, Paul Jacobs is establishing a privately funded technology design institute on campus. The UC's patent policy states that "an agreement to assign inventions and patents to the University, except those resulting from permissible consulting activities without use of University facilities, shall be mandatory"; this obligation is extended to employees (faculty included) and non employees (students included). There will be many lucrative patents developed at the new tech design facility, which the UC could give Qualcomm exclusive rights to. The grant of the building is an investment which offers a strong, long term return. Qualcomm is a member of US business coalition in support of the TransPacific Partnership, which would strengthen patent control and usage rights for the large multinationals, increasing the global corporate power over intellectual property and patent innovation.
April 23rd was both the day the redwood grove was cut and also the day the news story broke that Qualcomm was being investigated by the SEC (Securities Exchange Commision) and the DOJ (Department of Justice). The corporation is suspected of violating the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA), by bribing Chinese officials to strengthen its market position. Qualcomm is also facing allegations of price fixing, taking advantage of its growing position in China. Qualcomm's growth in the US has slowed, and the corporation is trying to expand its Chinese sales. Qualcomm's overseas sales had dropped, as the corporation was plagued by speculation that the NSA had backdoor access to their chip-sets.
Members of the public were lead to believe that some of the trees, in the north-west corner of the Paul Jacobs development, would be left to stay. This claim by the UC had been repeated multiple times, reinforced by a statement by the marketing director of UC Berkeley's engineering department (Karen Rhodes) that some redwoods would be at the corner in response to public input. Public input has been completely ignored on this project, including an alternate proposal for the building's placement. None of the trees actually had to be removed for the development, as there is an available lot near the engineering library which is larger than the lot behind Soda Hall, and in a more central location making the building accessible to students of different fields of study. The UC never gave any explanation as to why the building could not be placed by the engineering library, preserving the redwoods.
Police intimidation was used to keep people away from the protest, including the regular use of a police dog. On the evening of Earth Day, the police parked a detention van (paddy wagon) at the grove, due to an announced Earth Day info-session 'The Ecological Costs of the Surveillance State'. The police presence at the grove increased when the protest introduced issues pertaining to Qualcomm's ties to the Department of Homeland Security and the Defense Department. Qualcomm's big break into government contracts came from a 1994 contract for Code Division Multiple Access (CDMA) digital cellular system architecture. Over the years, Qualcomm directly lobbied for military contracts and has lobbied for DHS contracts. As for questions of ties to NSA spying programs, the protest raised concerns that it has not been clarified that Qualcomm did not assist the NSA.
Qualcomm's more recent phone chipsets are noted as being "always on" and "always listening", and have advanced GPS tracking. Their Moto X co-project has been called the perfect spy phone, the perfect phone for data collection. Security experts have raised concerns about the Moto X, as hackers or government agencies don't have to force on the microphone; it's already on. Privacy advocates are concerned about the amount of data the phone collects. With privacy and surveillance in the forefront of political and social discourse, there are concerns about the intrusion of Big Surveillance into consumer electronics.
The "More Redwoods, Less Surveillance" protest was an investigation into the ties between the UC, tech corporate partners and government agencies. The protest explored the UC's patent policy, and a need for patent reform. The protest was also marking this 50th anniversary year of the Free Speech movement, which began in Berkeley in 1964.
This is the Campbell Hall staging area, which is located next to the engineering library. It was proposed by the protesters as an alternative site, more central in campus, and no redwoods would be removed. The site is larger as well, which would allow for a bigger building. The UC did not enter into discussions about this alternative site, and would not explain why this site was not a valid proposal.
The Destruction of the Redwood Grove was the Destruction of Information
The destruction of the "More Redwoods, Less Surveillance" grove was the destruction of information. On 4/23, the day after Earth Day, the Professional Tree Care Company (a company that gets more money removing trees than caring for them) cut down the redwoods behind Soda Hall, at UC Berkeley Campus at the request of UC regents and the executive director of Qualcomm. All the trees in the grove were destroyed, even though the UC had given the impression that as per public input, redwoods would remain in the north-west corner of the site. The information these trees had stored is lost, and there are no trees on site to maintain the continuity of information storage.
The university's campaign leading up to the development of the Paul Jacobs Design Institute (Jacobs Hall), a privatized tech design center, has been a campaign of disinformation. The UC had been claiming that the trees are no older than 20 years old, as Soda Hall was inaugurated in 1994. While redwoods were planted for Soda Hall's opening, there were two preexisting redwoods standing on the lot before Soda Hall was designed. The ages of the 2 older trees have always been shrouded by uncertainty by the UC, although it is clear they were far older than the other trees, as they had much greater circumferences and heights. The university had also called the health of the trees into question; Christine Shaff (UC Berkeley Facilities spokesperson) made a public statement that the development of the tech design center offered “an opportunity to replace trees that aren’t doing so well”. However, the trees in the grove were healthy, and were doing fine through the drought.
Tree ring analysis would have determined the ages of the 2 larger trees in the grove, but the trunks of the trees were taken away to be turned into lumber; the tree stumps cannot be studied as they were ground into dust. The data that would have determined the precise age of the trees is gone - the evidence removed by the university that never wanted the ages of the trees to be known. The trees stored information about local weather and climate change over time. The tree rings could have been studied to look at the effects of climate change on redwoods in Berkeley. The health of the trees over time could have been determined. However the information stored in the trees was discarded, as the lumber value was seen by the UC to be greater than the value of the data in the trees.
The trees never had to be cut for the $20 million dollar tech institute to be built. There was, and still remains, an alternate lot next to the engineering library: a construction staging area used for development at Campbell Hall, a project which will be completed this year. When Campbell Hall is complete, the staging area adjacent to the engineering library will be free; the UC currently has no plans for the space. The staging area is larger than behind Soda Hall, and would not have necessitate the removal of trees; the lot is big enough that the construction could be done without disturbing the trees (oaks) that are around the lot. The larger space could hold a larger building, giving the design program room to grow over time. According to the university, the design institute is to be a multi-desciplinary program, inviting to students from different fields. The current placement of the building is on the outer edge of campus, not quickly accessible to may students who have to take into account distance and time spent going between buildings when scheduling classes. The staging area next to the engineering library is more central of a location; placement of the building at the spot would make it easier for students of non-EECS majors to participate in tech design courses.
The trees never had to be cut for the UC to have an innovative design program. The grove could have served as a stage for design research. Forest biometrics is a growing field of research, and the redwoods could have been platforms for new generation sensors monitoring tree growth and health. New methods of carbon mapping could have been explored in the grove, as student studied the carbon sequestration of the grove. Sensors for measuring the acidity and moisture levels of the soil could be studied. The trees themselves could have offered inspiration for design. There are various attributes of redwoods that could be studied for design projects: redwood branches have good tensile strength, the foliage of redwood trees block rain at their base, etc. Even the birds that lived in the trees could have been part of the design program, with students making ornithological observations with new technology.
The grove should have been seen as a source of data to be researched for design innovation. Instead, the UC regents and their partners at Qualcomm saw the grove as on obstacle to data research and technological design innovation. The trees were destroyed, removing the record of data that was the grove. no trees were preserved on the lot, as the public was lead to believe. None of the trees were transplanted in other locations and there was no attempt by the UC to take cuttings from the trees to preserve their genetic legacy. No core samples were taken, no cross-sections kept for study. It was a clear cut and data erasure.