Occupy the Farm activists have been on the Gill Tract since Earth Day on April 22. Photo: Tracey Taylor

Update: 9:24 am: The Dean of UC Berkeley’s College of Natural Resources, J. Keith Gilless, says he is willing to facilitate a meaningful dialogue about the future of the Gill Tract but a constructive dialogue cannot take place while the site is occupied and CNR staff need to prepare the site for this year’s research activities.

Dean J. Keith Gilless:"The current occupation must end."

In a message Gilless sent out to his faculty this morning at 8:22am, Gilless wrote: “I firmly believe that biology research and a well-organized metropolitan agriculture program could ultimately not just co-exist on the site, but benefit from interaction… The only way we can move forward to reconcile the needs and aspirations of everyone is for the current occupation to end so that CNR’s staff can prepare the site.”

He concluded: “As dean, I cannot be a party to any resolution to this unfortunate conflict that does not respect the academic freedom of CNR’s biologists to conduct their research, or in which I relinquish the rights of my faculty and students now or in the future to help chart the course of the University’s research, teaching, and extension activities.

“It’s possible for us to achieve something wonderful together at the Gill Tract. The politics of confrontation also make it possible for us to fail completely.”

Read J. Keith Gilless’s message in full.

In addition, the chair of UC Berkeley’s Academic Senate, Prof. Bob Jacobsen, addressed the Gill Tract occupation at the senate’s Spring divisional meeting yesterday. He said the protest action was  “inconsistent with the academic freedom of several of our colleagues,” but that he was hopeful a solution could be found. He concluded: “But if there is no way to reach a win-win resolution, then I believe that the faculty’s freedom to do their planned research must be supported as a key principle. As a faculty, I think we must stand by this.”

Original story: UC Berkeley issued a letter to the community on Wednesday evening regarding Occupy the Farm, the group of activists who have taken over the Cal property known as Gill Tract in Albany with a view to turning it into an urban farm and preventing development.

Cal representatives are set to meet members of Occupy the Farm in a private meeting at an undisclosed location tonight. Attorneys for both groups will be in attendance.

This is the second open letter issued by UC Berkeley on the matter. The first, released on April 27, addressed what it called “confusion and concern” over the property and future plans.

Here’s the full text of the new, open letter:

Dear Neighbors,

On Thursday evening representatives of UC Berkeley and the group currently engaged in an illegal occupation of the Gill Tract will be meeting to discuss ending the encampment and other, related issues.

Here are the goals, values and principles that inform our position:

  • The encampment must end. We cannot accept anything that will impede the ongoing and important work of our students and faculty. We are also deeply concerned by the  challenges arising from dozens of people living on an agricultural tract adjacent to an elementary school and residential areas. In recent days we have received numerous letters from members of the surrounding community that express deepening frustration with the encampment. These people, our neighbors, have legitimate concerns and interests which must be taken into account.
  • We seek to avoid confrontation or the utilization of coercive means to achieve goals shared by the university and many members of the communities surrounding the Gill Tract. Yet, time is running out: By the middle of May our researchers must begin field preparation and planting. For this reason we sincerely hope that those involved in the occupation are ready to respect the rights and interests of others.
  • If the encampment is ended we are, as previously stated, more than willing to discuss opportunities for a metropolitan agriculture program affiliated with the campus. In concert with our researchers, we have determined that not all of the Gill Tract acreage is needed for research projects in the current growing season. There is potentially room for both research and metropolitan farming. However, in order to ensure the research is unimpeded, liability concerns are addressed and other community-based individuals and organizations will have an opportunity to participate in any farming activities, UC Berkeley needs to retain its supervisory and coordinative responsibilities, as the institution that owns the land and is held accountable for how it is used.
  • As many Albany residents know, the only proposal for the future of the Gill Tract—-if and when we cease agricultural research on the parcel—envisions not commercial development, but open space, recreational space and community space; an idea that was the result many years of community engagement. Yet, here too, we have been consistently saying that the university is open to further discussions with the community about implementation of the Master Plan on this portion of the property. However, meaningful engagement must be inclusive of diverse perspectives, cannot be held under duress or threat and must be conducted through existing venues in Albany that have been established for this very purpose.

Our goals are based on a need to protect the interests of our faculty and students, and a belief that the community engagement process we have been involved in for many years must be respected, even by those who disagree with its outcome. We are also, at the same time, open to a genuine dialogue. So, at this point we believe the occupiers must make a choice: If their priority is to use the encampment as a means to unilaterally impose their vision on a parcel of land with a wide range of stakeholders it will be impossible to find common ground. However, if their priority is to see a portion of the Gill Tract used for metropolitan farming, then there is hope for a resolution based on shared interests and an inclusive dialogue.


George Breslauer

Executive Vice Chancellor and Provost,

John Wilton

Vice Chancellor, Administration and Finance

Ongoing coverage of the Gill Tract protest can be found on Albany Patch.

Occupy the Farm activists issue open letter to community [04.30.12]
UC Berkeley issues open letter to “clear confusion” on Gill Tract [ 04.27.12]
UC Berkeley calls for peaceful end to Occupy the Farm [04.23.12]

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Tracey Taylor is co-founder of Berkeleyside and co-founder and editorial director of Cityside, the nonprofit parent to Berkeleyside and The Oaklandside. Before launching Berkeleyside, Tracey wrote for...