SENIOR BERKELEY LEADERS (left to right) Shirley Dean, 71, a former mayor, Betty Olds, 86,of the Berkeley City Council, and Sylvia McLaughlin, 90, founder
SENIOR BERKELEY LEADERS (left to right) Shirley Dean, 71, a former mayor, Betty Olds, 86, of the Berkeley City Council, and Sylvia McLaughlin, 90, founder of Save The Bay, gather atop a historic oak tree Monday morning because they want to save the grove that is slated to be removed by UC Berkeley to make way for a new $125 million sports training facility. (Ray Chavez - Staff)
BERKELEY — Two of the three women are older than the tree itself, but that didn't stop them Monday from climbing into a historic oak they are desperately trying to save.

Wearing sensible shoes and ear-to-ear smiles, Berkeley City Councilmember Betty Olds, 86, Save the Bay founder Sylvia McLaughlin, 90, and former Berkeley Mayor Shirley Dean, 71, climbed a metal ladder into an 80-year-old coast live oak Monday morning.

"Together we have nearly 250 years of political experience ... nobody's going to cut us down and nobody is going to cut the oaks down," said Dean, standing on a wooden platform that had been secured between tree branches.

A group of protesters took to the trees in early December when the University of California, Berkeley, announced it would raze more than three dozen trees to make room for a new $125 million sports training facility, parking lot and offices next to Memorial Stadium.

Six people now are living in different trees, including former mayoral candidate Zachary Running Wolf, who came down for a short break last month, but returned to his perch earlier this month.

Olds was the first to climb the ladder Monday and she said she did so without hesitation. "I've always climbed trees all my life, so I don't mind," she said before going up.

Next went McLaughlin, who said she hadn't climbed a tree since she was a teen. That was back in the 1930s.

"I think these trees should be saved — this is a green, peaceful oasis," she said.

Dean was the last up the ladder and joked repeatedly about how coming down was going to be much tougher than going up.

The three women stayed in the sprawling tree for more than an hour, much to the cheers and applause of environmentalists, UC Berkeley alumni and gawkers who offered to order them pizza for lunch, snapped photos and lauded them for advocating to save the oak grove.

"This is a very important event — to have these respected political leaders in our city taking the risk of going up into the trees. ... I don't know if when I'm 90 years old I will go up into a tree, but after seeing them I think I will be motivated to do so," said Save the Oaks at the Stadium organizer Doug Buckwald.

In addition to the tree protests, four different groups — the Panoramic Hill Association, a group of plaintiffs that includes the California Oak Foundation and Save the Oaks at the Stadium, Save Tightwad Hill and the city of Berkeley — have filed separate lawsuits.

An Alameda County Superior Court judge today will hold a hearing to decide if UC Berkeley can move forward with construction before the cases can be heard. Buckwald said he was encouraged by the political clout that came out to support the tree protest Monday.

"I think we are going to save these trees," he said. "There's going to be some kicking and screaming still, but I think UC Berkeley will do the right thing after they evaluate the situation and go on through the process."

A UC Berkeley spokeswoman said the university had no comment about Monday's tree sit-in.