Besieged Berkeley chancellor’s home gets $700,000 protective fence

UniversityHouse_UCBerkeley_T400Twenty-four years after police killed a protester who had broken into the on-campus home of UC Berkeley’s chancellor and seven years after anarchists tried to burn the home down with the chancellor and his wife inside, the building now has a $700,000 fence surrounding it.

Some students and alumni were critical, saying it sends the wrong message.

After plans to build the fence were revealed last year, sophomore Cheyenne Millard told KCBS that she objected to the “symbolicness of the fence and what it means putting it up, it’s making a separation between the students and the chancellor.”

UC Berkeley graduate Bianca Huntley-Ortega, a protest organizer, told KCBS that the fence reflected poorly on Chancellor Nicholas Dirks — a “symbol that he’s not fighting for the interest of the students.”

Dirks, aware of what happened to his predecessors, has offered no apologies.

Most coverage of the costly fence has only vaguely alluded to the reasons UC officials might consider taking the unusual step of acting to secure the physical safety of the chancellor, citing past protests without offering many details. But two incidents show the risks chancellors faced before the fence was installed.

2009 attack likened to ‘terrorism’ by Schwarzenegger

On Dec. 11, 2009, a crowd of protesters later found to be led by anarchists tried to burn down the residence after a Friday night protest of tuition and fee hikes and budget cuts. Then-UC Berkeley Chancellor Robert Birgeneau said the next day that “these are criminals, not activists. The attack at our home was extraordinarily frightening and violent. My wife and I genuinely feared for our lives.”

Besides trying to burn down the home, known as University House, a crowd of about 75 people smashed its windows, lights and planters before being dispersed by police. Eight were arrested; two were Cal students and the rest were associated with radical groups and movements with strongholds in the Bay Area.

The reaction to the incident was oddly muted. Instead of focusing on the fact that protesters hoped to burn Birgeneau and his wife Mary alive, a San Francisco Chronicle account referred to “vandalism” in its headline. Alameda County District Attorney Karen O’Malley made clear the case was not a priority, saying she lacked evidence to file serious charges against the eight people arrested.

Among those frustrated with O’Malley: then-Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, who likened the protesters to “terrorists” and issued a statement: “The governor expects the DA to utilize all tools to identify and prosecute those responsible for the attack on Chancellor Birgeneau’s home. While the governor supports open debate, this protest crossed the line into criminal activity and those responsible should be treated as criminals.”

1992 incident: Armed intruder shot and killed

An even-scarier incident occurred on Aug. 26, 1992. This is from the L.A. Times’ account:

BERKELEY — A young machete-wielding political activist awaiting trial on charges of possession of explosives was shot and killed by police Tuesday after she broke into the campus residence of UC Chancellor Chang-Lin Tien.

University officials said that Rosebud Abigail Denovo, 19, entered the residence and triggered a silent alarm at 5:51 a.m. Campus police telephoned Tien, who quickly locked his second-floor bedroom doors.

Authorities arrived with an Oakland police canine unit, began a search and then escorted the chancellor and his wife, Di-Hwa Tien, from the residence. About 7 a.m., authorities said, Denovo was discovered in another second-floor bedroom, a short distance from the Tiens’ room.

Officials said that as Oakland Police Officer Craig Chew opened the door, the woman lunged at him with a machete. Chew fired three times with a handgun in self-defense, officials said.

Denovo got into the residence by melting the molding on a basement window with a propane torch.

UC Berkeley officials downplayed the cost of the fence, saying it would actually save money in coming years by reducing the need to have the house constantly patrolled. The annual cost of patrols was $200,000 before the fence and is expected to be much lower going forward.

Chris Reed

Chris Reed

Chris Reed is a regular contributor to Cal Watchdog. Reed is an editorial writer for U-T San Diego. Before joining the U-T in July 2005, he was the opinion-page columns editor and wrote the featured weekly Unspin column for The Orange County Register. Reed was on the national board of the Association of Opinion Page Editors from 2003-2005. From 2000 to 2005, Reed made more than 100 appearances as a featured news analyst on Los Angeles-area National Public Radio affiliate KPCC-FM. From 1990 to 1998, Reed was an editor, metro columnist and film critic at the Inland Valley Daily Bulletin in Ontario. Reed has a political science degree from the University of Hawaii (Hilo campus), where he edited the student newspaper, the Vulcan News, his senior year. He is on Twitter: @chrisreed99.

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