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, 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, 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]

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Emilie Raguso (former senior editor, news) joined Berkeleyside in 2012 and covered politics, public safety and development until her departure in 2022. In 2017, Emilie was named Journalist of the Year...