University Village, Sprouts get (final) green light

A rendering of the new University Village development. Image: courtesy the City of Albany
A rendering of the University Village development shows a new Sprouts Farmers Market and additional retail space. A final appeal on the part of Occupy the Farm to stop the project was rejected last week. Image: City of Albany

The disputed UC Berkeley land next to Albany’s Gill Tract is in contention no more. Last week, the California Court of Appeals ruled in favor of the university to build a senior housing development and Sprouts Farmers Market grocery store on San Pablo Avenue in University Village.

Read more on Berkeleyside’s coverage of Occupy the Farm.

The development, on a long-vacant lot next to the Gill Tract research field, has been the site of protests since April 2012 on the part of Occupy the Farm, which has stated that UC Berkeley’s plans would “pave over a rare natural resource” and that the Gill Tract is “public farmland that belongs to the people.”

Stefanie Rawlings, of Occupy the Farm, originally filed a lawsuit against the city of Albany and UC Berkeley that alleged that the city’s approved Environmental Impact Report was deficient. When Rawlings lost the suit, she filed an appeal on the grounds that the report did not lay out appropriate alternatives for the building plan, and that the city did not appropriately consider the alternatives listed.


In a statement, Occupy participant Vanessa Raditz, a public-health student at UC Berkeley, said the city’s “failure to explore alternatives is a severe public health threat to the community. This area has long been known for its dangerous air pollution from the 580 and 80 freeways and the Pacific Steel Casting factory, which has led to high levels of asthma in the community. The EIR highlights that the proposed development would be bringing in 6,500 new cars per day on Monroe Street, right next to the village daycare center, the little league fields, and Oceanview Elementary School. The EIR even states clearly that these traffic impacts cannot be mitigated. The only solution is a smaller project or none at all.”

The courts disagreed and rejected the appeal June 16.

Albany Mayor Peter Maass expressed strong support for the project. “After a very extensive planning and vetting process, I was happy to hear that the last of the legal hurdles has been cleared,” he said in a prepared statement. “With its attention to walking and cycling access, creek restoration, green building standards and more, this project will set a high standard for urban development and will have enduring benefits for the Albany community.”

Now that the legal challenges have been mitigated, tenants plan to begin construction later this year.

The site plan for UC Berkeley's mixed-use project in Albany.
The site plan for UC Berkeley’s mixed-use project in Albany.

The development was initially approved by the city of Albany in 2014, though it had been part of a community planning process that had been ongoing for several years. It originally included a Whole Foods Market in addition to the senior housing complex. But Whole Foods pulled out of the project after the prolonged protests, and Sprouts signed on. While Occupy the Farm contends that the project will destroy the Gill Tract community farm, construction is not planned on either the 10-acre agricultural research fields where there is a community farm.

Occupy the Farm has argued that the Gill Tract historically spanned the entirety of the area where University Village, UC Berkeley’s family housing development, was built, and is not limited only to the research fields.

Approved public art by Bruce Beasley. Image: City of Albany
Approved public art by Bruce Beasley. Image: City of Albany

The current plans also include the construction of new walking and bike paths, as well as a 22-foot-tall stainless steel sculpture by East Bay artist Bruce Beasley.

In addition to their opposition to the construction as a whole, the protesters contend that Sprouts is a poor choice. They have organized regular protest events at Bay Area Sprouts locations, most recently at the Fremont and Mountain View locations May 30.

“Sprouts is not a Farmer’s Market. Using that name for a big-box supermarket is an insult to local farmers who are actually working to fix our broken food system,” said Hank Herrera of New Hope Farms and the Gill Tract Farm Coalition in a statement.

The last protest to take place at Gill Tract concerned the removal of 53 trees on the property this past February. Occupy the Farm also disrupted a UC Regents meeting May 21, carrying signs saying, “We want produce, not privatization.”

Related:
53 trees come down on Cal land as grocery store, senior living project begins (02.26.15)
‘Occupy The Farm’ tells tale of local food activism (11.17.14)
Judge denies lawsuit to halt grocery plans (06.06.13)
Cal plows again, after weekend occupation (05.20.13)
Lawsuit to stop grocery store tentatively denied (05.17.13)
Occupy the Farm: ‘We’ll keep coming back’ (05.14.13)
4 arrests, as Cal ends brief Albany occupation (05.13.13)
Urban farmers plan ‘short-form’ Gill Tract occupation (05.10.13)
Cal razes latest Occupy the Farm greens at Gill Tract (11.16.12)
UC Berkeley regains control of Gill Tract from activists (05.14.12)
UC Berkeley police block access to Occupy The Farm (05.09.12)
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)

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