UC Berkeley

Urban farmers plan ‘short-form’ Gill Tract occupation

Occupy the Farm protestors on the Gill Tract. Photo: Tracey Taylor

Occupy the Farm protestors on the Gill Tract in 2012. Photo: Tracey Taylor

Following a recent announcement by urban farming activists about plans to “occupy” an empty lot in Albany that’s slated for development, UC Berkeley officials have issued a statement urging local residents to prepare for “potential traffic obstructions” should “illegal activities proceed” this coming weekend.

“The university will not allow a permanent encampment on our property,” said George Breslauer, UC’s executive vice chancellor and provost, and John Wilton, UC’s vice chancellor of administration and finance, in the prepared statement. (Scroll down to see the full statement.)

The activists, who call themselves ‘Occupy the Farm,’ put out a call Wednesday to ask supporters to speak out against the planned development at a city meeting in Albany that night, and to come out at noon on Saturday to “launch an action that manifests the highest and best use of the Gill Tract farmland!”

Earlier this month, activists posted online about plans from May 11-12 for “a good ol’ fashioned short-form occupation. There will be farming (of course), your friends and neighbors, skill-shares, music, and more!” Specific details about how long they plan to work or stay on the land were not available.

Activists occupied a nearby parcel, southwest of Marin and San Pablo avenues, last year in April for several weeks. (Read prior Berkeleyside coverage of the 2012 occupation.) This year, they have set their sights on a lot just south of that parcel, which the university has been working to develop, in collaboration with the city of Albany, for years. The mixed-use project includes a grocery store north of Monroe Street, and a senior housing complex south of it.

Sprouts Farmers Market recently said it will lease and run the grocery side of the project. According to Albany Patch, Cal has selected Oppidan Development to implement the retail portion of the mixed-use project, which includes the proposed Sprouts market, described as “a full-service, grocery store that focuses on organic/natural food, fresh produce, great prices and old-fashioned customer service as their anchor tenant.”

Whole Foods market had previously signed a lease agreement with Cal for the lot north of Monroe, but pulled out in September in the wake of last year’s Gill Tract occupation and several related lawsuits. In February, Whole Foods confirmed news Berkeleyside had reported in November, that the company would build a new outlet at 10th and Gilman streets in Berkeley instead.

UC Berkeley statement dated May 9

Dear Neighbors,

Along with many of you, we recently learned that “Occupy the Farm” activists are planning a “short-form” occupation of university property a few blocks south of our Gill Tract agricultural research fields, this coming  Saturday, May 11th. It is unclear what a “short-form” occupation means, but we want to alert the community  about the possibility of this illegal activity, and let you know how the university will address an illegal occupation on our property, should that occur.

We, like many of you who have written to us, are disturbed and disappointed by the possibility that people with little regard for the law, community interests and democratic processes may once again attempt to impose their will on the university and our neighbors.

According to their publicity materials, the group is now choosing to target a parcel of land that formerly housed University Village apartments, and where a new grocery store and senior housing is planned. Their goal appears to be a dismantling of a development plan that we, and so many of you, have worked hard to bring to fruition.

It is more than a little disconcerting to find a reference to “a battle” in publicity material for an illegal event that will be held in close proximity to a school, little league fields and a primary entrance to University Village residences.

We suggest that you plan to proceed as normal, but be prepared for potential traffic obstructions in that area should the illegal activities proceed. University personnel will be present throughout the day and will be working with representatives from the City of Albany, to monitor the situation and ensure your safety and access to your activities, so your day may proceed, to the extent possible, as planned.

The university will not allow a permanent encampment on our property. We have been in direct communication, and are working closely with, the City of Albany, the Little League and others in the area to ensure preparedness if illegal activities take place on our property. Our primary goals will be to manage any

situation to the best of our ability, minimize disruption to the community, and ensure safety of the Albany community.

We want to thank the City of Albany and the residents of Albany Village who have been very forthcoming with their desires for a safe area and a continuation of the development site.

This letter, like every previous message, is the result of a careful, broad-based decision-making process that includes senior administration leaders, members of faculty, the dean of the College of Natural Resources, UCPD and Community Relations.

‘Occupy the Farm’ statement dated May 8


Ahoy Farmsters, Occupiers, Friends!

It was about this time last year that UC’s development project, slated to pave over much of the historic Gill Tract Farm, was brought to the forefront of public debate by our three-week land occupation. The momentum continued into the summer with a campaign of direct action farming and guerilla food distribution, numerous public forums and speakouts in favor of the farm, a local referendum and two lawsuits against the UC’s plan.

All of this hard work helped establish a broad based coalition of grassroots groups, and it also secured two huge victories: control of the northern half of the Gill Tract was transferred from UC’s Capital Projects back to the UC College of Natural Resources, and the anchor tenant on the southern half of the Farm, Whole Foods, pulled out of the UC’s development project entirely.

We are encouraged to see the north side of the Farm under the administration of the College of Natural Resources (CNR), even if the reprieve from development is temporary (the UC’s arrangement is only for 10 years). We have begun work with fellow urban farmers and allies on campus to engage in meaningful dialogue around what a community partnership with the UC could look like. This diverse group of stakeholders recognizes the Farm as an icon of the structural challenges facing communities all over the world, as they struggle for land access and food justice. OTF is committed to maintaining these positive, collaborative relationships, even as we call for another direct action on May 11th.

Our call to action is spurred by UC Capital Projects’ recent unveiling of a renewed development plan for the Farm, which aims to replace Whole Foods with a smaller grocery store called Sprouts. At first glance that might sound like a win for farm supporters, but a closer look shows that the new development will have the same footprint as the old ones, with a large parking lot that would blanket most of the south side of the farm.

It is inspiring to see Albany residents rally to protect the Farm, joining a larger community that is not restricted to geographic proximity. Every resident of California is a stakeholder in the UC: it is up to us to ensure that the UC’s stewardship of the Gill Tract does not sacrifice our interests in public land and public education in favor of corporate interests and a quick profit. Each of you receiving this email, no matter where you are in the world, is a critical constituent in the battle for an Urban Farm at the Gill Tract, and it in turn reflects and magnifies the struggles of every other community that is fighting for the highest and best use of our planet’s food system and natural resources.

The southern portion of the Gill Tract Farm that is under threat has not been cultivated for years, but the soil remains some of the most fertile in the bioregion. Fed by the rising and receding cycle of the two creeks that have run through the land for millennia, and subject to comparatively little development or contamination since World War II, the remaining portion of the Farm is irreplaceable in its capacity to build local resiliency through the cultivation of food, knowledge, and community.

On Saturday, May 11th, we will launch an action that manifests the highest and best use of the Gill Tract farmland!

Op-Ed: Disappointed but still inspired at the Gill Tract [11.20.12]
Officials push UC Berkeley mixed-use project forward [11.20.12]
Cal razes latest Occupy the Farm greens at Gill Tract [11.16.12]
Cal: No GM crops at Gill Tract, research work is under way [05.18.12]
UC Berkeley regains control of Gill Tract from activists [05.14.12]
Police raid, clear out Occupy the Farm, handful of arrests [05.14.12]
UC Berkeley speaks of impasse, seals off Occupy Farm [05.10.12]
Activists: Farming and academic research can coexist [05.10.12]
UC files lawsuit against Occupy the Farm [05.09.12]
UC Berkeley police block access to Occupy The Farm [05.09.12]
Cal weighs legal action to evict Occupy the Farm activists [05.08.12]
Farm activists: We will leave if Cal meets our concerns [05.08.12]
UC Berkeley sets midnight deadline for Occupy the Farm [05.05.12]
Could UC and Occupy the Farm compromise on Gill Tract? [05.04.12]
UC Berkeley on Occupy the Farm: ‘Time is running out’ [05.03.12]
Occupy the Farm activists issue open letter to community [04.30.12]
University open letter addresses ‘confusion’ on Gill Tract [04.27.12]
UC Berkeley calls for peaceful end to Occupy the Farm [04.23.12]

Berkeleyside publishes many articles every day. To see all our stories in chronological order, and read ones you may have missed, check out our All the News grid.

Print Friendly
Tagged , , , ,
Please keep our community civil. Comments should remain on topic and be respectful.
Read our full comments policy »
  • The_Sharkey

    I wonder if the Occupy the Farm protesters will actually occupy the part of the Gill Tract that’s slated for development this time.

  • John Holland

    Occupy The Farm is a perversion of the Occupy movement and an embarrassment to sincere social justice advocates everywhere.

    The tract they are targeting this time (what will it be next?!) is 2.8 acres. There’s another wasted 2.8 tract of land in Berkeley: People’s Park. Turn that into farm, and I’d be impressed. This is just rabble rousing that dilutes the legitimate focus of the Occupy movement on economic inequality in our nation.

    Some Berkeley citizens have a different vision for the Gill Tract: a miniature golf and family entertainment fun center, maybe even with a water slide. I’m calling it “Occupy The Putt-Putt”. This urban space Occupy wants to waste on farming would be especially well suited for miniature golf, with it’s level surface, and proximity to residential areas. Watch out, Occupy The Farm, you’re not the only one who has eyes on this property, and the Puttsters have you in our sights!

    You’re not the only one who knows what’s best for this land, you know! So don’t let your guard down, because one day, we’re going to show up and start building a mini-castle with a water feature. And no one will cry for you when you call the police to protect your farm from our occupation.


  • BBnet3000

    Farming activists? Theres lots of much better farmland in California. Someone should try to stop it from being turned into new subdivisions a mile at a time….

  • John Holland

    Sharkey, perhaps you would like to join us for “Occupy the Putt-Putt”? If we work together, we can find a way to make sure this land is put to good use as a family-fun entertainment center with water slides and animatronics. Less than 1% of urban lands are used for miniature golf, and the numbers are even lower in developing parts of the world.

    We’re growing in numbers (if you join us we will have doubled in size), and we will be able to beat Occupy The Farm at their own game. They think they know what’s best for that land (just like the dumb University), but in reality, everyone knows that the space would be best used for miniature golf.

  • Andrew

    I know that on Saturday a bunch of energetic and talented Little Leaguers plan to occupy the fields too. Those so-called farmers better watch out for the LL parents! They’re a civil bunch but they sure don’t want their kids to miss their games. How about a game between the farmers and the kids??? Call them a farm team!

    Maybe the farmers could supplement the snack shack with freshly picked fruits and veggies. It’s stone fruit season!

  • Iris Fleur

    “On Saturday, May 11th, we will launch an action that manifests the highest and best use of the Gill Tract farmland!”

    I don’t know why I find this so, well, …. amusing. It’s not *the* most condescending, self-rightous & supercilious thing I’ve read in my life.

  • Cal Faculty

    Please don’t interfere with the ongoing corporate mission of a formerly public university.

  • Jack O.

    Arrest. Prosecute. Convict.

  • Occupy The Farm

    Please don’t expect us to actually be knowledgeable about farming, the Albany community, or the kinds of research that are done on the active parts of the Gill Tract.

    We’re just a bunch of outside agitators who want to get on the evening news and are looking for excuses to hurtle insults and fecal matter at the police.

  • guest

    Right, because leasing an empty lot to a grocery store represents a devastating blow to the educational mission of the University and a massive capitulation to the forces of corporatism. Because that empty lot represents the last best hope to feed the hungry in Oakland, a jewel of Class I farmland in the wasteland that is the city of Albany. Please, spare us the hyperbole.

  • guest

    That’s not fair. I think the guy left in the tree only peed on the cops. No poop was involved. Ok, their was poop for a while in their outdoor, all natural bathrooms, and their dogs certainly pooped wherever, and there may have been some chicken poop, but there was no hurling of poop. Not one documented instance of poop hurling. Lots of pot smoking, and a massive amount of “condescending, self-rightous & supercilious” rhetoric. But no tossing of the poop.

  • Iris Fleur

    That’s not poop. It’s recycled waste product.

  • John Holland

    Here is an artists rendering of the proposed Gill Tract Golf™ development. Next step is alerting the University that we’re reclaiming the land for a better purpose… according to us.

    I think I have a line on a used water slide!

  • The_Sharkey


  • Iris

    JH We can liberate the long cement slide in Cornices Park and redeploy it as a water slide using the irrigation lines at Gill Tract. That slide is in its current location is wasting extremely fertile agricultural ground. that rightfully belongs to The People.

    Oh, I’d like to request a minature Campanile for the GTG, just likie the former putt-putt on Telegraph had.

  • PragmaticProgressive

    Will Berkeley Deer be permitted on the Golf course and water slide? Please say yes!

  • guest

    John, I commend your light hearted approach. I just hope the Little League Dads don’t rumble with the Occunaughts. Come on UC…show some muscle, you’re the good guys this time.

  • EarlyMorningCoffee

    These people confuse me. What is it they want?

  • guest

    Their Maypo.

  • 4eenie

    Attention. Preferably negative.

  • batard

    Lay a finger on my dear cement slide and there will be hell to pay. That handful of scruffy and incompetent dirt worshipers will pale in comparison to the wave of opposition forces that will descend from these hills ..

    Now, as JH said — if these fools want to farm PP then they might earn some cred.

  • batard

    Hey what’s with the one-percenter holding the golf club in your picture? Isn’t this a family place or what?

  • The_Sharkey

    Drove by this right when it was getting started today on my way to stores outside of Berkeley.
    (99 Ranch, CostCo, Home Depot, Bed Bath & Beyond)

    As expected, the “occupiers” were mostly out-of-towners who were clearly unfamiliar with the area. Probably mostly from Oakland. Outside agitators who don’t speak for the community, just like last time.

    One bright note was the grassroots bicycle counter-protest organized by Albany resident Preston Jordan. They had on hard hats and signs denouncing the Occupy The Farm nutters and championing the proposed development that Albany residents have worked long and hard to craft with the UC.

  • fran haselsteiner

    They planted lettuce and kale, as well as a couple of other things. Thing is, it’s too late to plant lettuce and kale. At least in my experience as a gardener here in Berkeley.

  • guest

    Perhaps we should be grateful to have the Occuloons? As a pointless, vain rendition of junior college socialism, they make a great punching bag for the community to tune up on…forcing us to organize ourselves as we train for the real fights facing us.

  • bingo

    fertilizer! all natural, organic!

  • Iris

    LOL. I hear you. I’ve spent many a day nearly killing myself speeding down that slide on waxed up cardboard. Its a treasure.

  • Iris Fleur

    Lettuce and Kale? All this fuss so they could plant garnishes? Zzzzz.