Occupiers broke into the Gill Tract area again on Sunday. About 30 people arrived around noon, and according to the Daily Californian, some distracted the security while others broke into the property. Their purpose was to harvest crops that they had planted in April when they first broke into and occupied the land
The Gill Tract is an area of land owned by the University of California at Berkeley. The area in question that was being occupied was being used in part for agricultural research. Occupiers claimed that the University intended to sell the land for development to make a Whole Foods, and that they were breaking in to save it as farmland for sustainable farming. The University disputed this claim, noting that it was another area that was being used for development and that the land in question was for research, with which the Occupiers were interfering.
A standoff ensued when the Occupiers would not leave. Finally, the University had to move in on May 14 and throw them off the land so that the University could ensure that its researchers were able to do their own work. In the meantime, some research work had been damaged by the Occupiers’ presence.
Since being kicked off the land, the Occupy group has continued to trespass on the land, cutting the lock off the gate four times, including the last break in yesterday.
“We are in a difficult situation and don’t have the resources to monitor the Gill Tract around the clock,” said UC Berkeley spokesperson Dan Mogulof. “There is a group that seems to care little about property rights or the rule of law. We need to focus on ensuring that the research goes unimpeded and unharmed.”
The University had begun a lawsuit against the Occupiers but dropped it due to costs.
UCPD Lt. Alex Yao said on August 8 that the tract is being monitored by both the community and the UCPD. He also said the participants of the break-ins are videotaped by officers.
According to the Daily Californian,
Protesters said the development project — which was planned for several years and was finally approved by Albany City Council on July 9 — provides no guarantees against the agricultural land being paved away. Furthermore, they said the mega-complex may impact the soil and increase car exhaust in the area, which would cause air pollution and asthma for Albany residents.
“Most importantly, there is no guarantee that in the future the agricultural land will not be developed further,” said Kelly Jewett, a UC Berkeley fifth-year and Occupy the Farm member. “In all reality, there is no explicit intention to develop agricultural land.”
Keep Albany Local, a local organization against the project, has spearheaded a petition that includes over 1,400 signatures calling for a referendum of the city council’s decision. If the petition is approved by the Albany city clerk, a referendum will appear on the November election ballot, giving Albany residents the option to rescind approvals for the development project, said Sally Sommer, an Occupy the Farm member and Berkeley resident
Occupy had been invited to participate in the discussions over the future of the land, but had declined to do so.
Though UCPD officers told protesters not to damage the property, members of the Occupy the Farm said they did not feel like they were trespassing because the Gill Tract is public land.
“(Trespassing) is not really a significant aspect of this,” Jewett said. “Personally, I feel that this is public land. They don’t put a fence up around Sproul Plaza[central hub at the University]”
Approximately 100 University police moved in yesterday on the Occupy the Farm group and arrested nine people, ending the 23 day occupation.
Police announced they would be moving in and gave people time to leave. According to UC police spokesperson Lt Eric Tejada, police gave a warning to leave every minute for ten minutes. Two people who stayed on the tract were arrested for trespass. 7 others who were waiting outside the property were arrested for unlawful assembly for failure to disperse after a dispersal order.
According to the Mercury News , one protester remained perched in a tree, UC Berkeley spokesman Dan Mogulof said. ”He’ll be down soon,” Mogulof said. “He doesn’t have any supplies up there with him.”
Mogulof and Lt. Tejada said police found ten people sleeping on the land when they arrived. Occupiers stated that “no one was camped on the land when the police moved in”.
Mogulof said that the police would maintain a “stepped up presence” on the property for awhile. He said if the University hadn’t taken action, a whole year’s worth of research could have been lost.
Mogulof said the university had hoped to avoid “any kind of confrontation” and had undertaken a “patient dialogue” over the past few weeks with the activists, who refused to cede control of the area back to the university. College of Natural Resources Dean Keith Gilless visited the site to speak with members of Occupy the Farm on numerous occasions…Mogulof added: “You can’t do good science when you have a few dozen uninvited, untrained guests roaming around in what is essentially an open-air laboratory”.
Mogulof had said they were not against working with Occupiers and allowing them to do farming there but that ”All they needed to do was agree to work with us to coordinate activities.” The regents had said they would drop their suit if the protesters quit trespassing and joined in a discussion Saturday about how to use the land for both urban farming and for the plant research faculty members are planning for the site.
The Albany Patch reported the Occupy response:
”This land has been fought over for decades,” said Anya Kamenskaya, a spokesperson for the Gill Tract Farmers Collective (via the group’s afternoon news release). ”UC needs to let go of control and supervision of this land. For decades, it has fenced off this land from use by the community. Today’s show of force is merely another in a long history of the UC’s rejection of community access to this prized piece of farmland.”
Most of those arrested appear to have already been released, although at least some of them appear to have been given 7 day “stay away” from the property orders.
Occupiers are talking about meeting at the Albany library at 5 pm today for a “reconvergence meeting”. Expect an attempt to take back the land.
Video of Occupiers chanting outside “Whose farm? Our farm!”
Another video of Occupiers heckling the police outside the Gill Tract. WARNING: Profane language/gestures:
Occupiers were given till 10 am today to get out or risk arrest.
See details here.
At 9 am this morning, after meeting, they agreed to take down their tents and leave, thereby meeting the University’s deadline and avoiding criminal charges.
The University had agreed to give them a seat at the table of a meeting discussing the future of the tract of land if they agreed to leave.
While Occupiers agreed to leave, they said they would not be taking part in the meeting.
“We are saying we don’t need the encampment, but we are also saying that we don’t need the UC” said “Christof,” who spoke to KTVU on behalf of the Occupy the Farm protesters Saturday morning.
Updated: Gopal Dayaneni, Occupy spokesperson, released the following statement which makes it appear that they are not in fact leaving-that they are simply removing the tents, but they are still trying to farm there and control the site- “We are not ceding control or supervision”:
We are removing the encampments. We don’t need the encampment to assert the right and responsibility to tend the crops. We don’t need to camp here …. We’re leaving all the things that are appropriate to farming.
We’ve been discussing it over the last day or so. We made that decision this morning. We’re now executing it.
We’re still doing our events today. We’re creating access points. We’re building a slide for kids to get in(emphasis added). We continue to assert the fact that we did on Day One: that the fence is not the issue.
People have invested, and they have the right to continue to farm here. We feel like we have a lot of support for the farm. The camp was a tactic to serve the farm. At this time we don’t think we need it. So we’re moving it. If we decide we need it in the future, we will bring it back.
The most important thing is that people have access to the crops, and that people can come and go.
We’re not ceding control or supervision. We’re continuing to farm the farm. We’re continuing to ask everyone to come and join us. We’ve committed to the researchers that we can coexist…. We created the space necessary for researchers to farm their crops.
The university is really the barrier here. They should keep the gates open and let people come and go.
So long as we’re under threat by lawsuit and arrest, we’re not willing to trust them with our crops.
Updated: 5/12 5:10 pm While the occupiers staying on the property appear to have jumped the fence to leave, they claim they will continue to breach the property to care for their crops. They have set up ladders to be able to access the property. Because they have vowed to continue to trespass, the University says they will not drop the lawsuit against them.
The saga continues. On April 22, Occupier broke into the Gill Tract, land owned by UC Berkeley. Claiming they wanted to save the land for “urban farming” and from development, they started tilling and planting vegetables.
Of course, the Gill Tract was not slated for development but was being used by the University students, professors and scientists for research. In moving onto the land, in addition to breaking the locks, Occupy brought in tents, porta potties, cut down trees used in research project, managed to run off the wild turkeys that had been living there. They uprooted the soil, and planted items not planned for the area.
It appears that the University’s patience may finally have been expended.
The Univeristy gave them a deadline to respond last weekend, which they ignored. Occupiers issued a statement in repsonse on Monday, stating they would not leave until the University met their demands which included:
1. turning the water back on (UC shut off the water the day after the occupation began)
2. continued access to the field to tend the crops they planted and to their “Children’s Garden” and seed bank site.
3. that university researchers “refrain from using chemical herbicides, pesticides, fungicides, chemical fertilizer or plastic tarp in the soil on the farm.
The Univeristy responded on Tuesday, calling Occupiers’ statement one with a “stunning degree of arrogance and entitlement”:
“We find it very difficult to understand the moral, legal or intellectual basis for demands that would put a self-selected group in a position to dictate how, when and where our faculty conduct important research to which they have dedicated their professional lives,” UC said. “There is also a stunning degree of arrogance and entitlement inherent in this group’s demands and statements about what they are ‘willing’ to do for our researchers.”
“While we will continue to leave the door open to an acceptance of our proposal that would allow the illegal occupants to leave the land without consequence,” UC said, “the university has no choice but to take the steps necessary to enforce our legal rights, protect academic freedom, preserve the collaborative community-based planning process and work with our law-abiding neighbors who share our interest in finding a way to allow for peaceful coexistence of urban farming and agricultural research on the Gill Tract.”
On Wednesday, the University started to get tough. They locked an the entrance gate and erected barricades to the property. They also filed a suit against the Occupiers, naming 14 people associated with the takeover and 150 unnamed ‘John Does”. The suit asks for a court order for removal of the Occupiers from the tract. The suit also seeks damages for the property damage that has been incurred and court costs. See suit here.
On Thursday, the University locked the last remaining open entrance. Although they didn’t remove anyone there, no one else is allowed to enter. Police and private security have been on site.
The latest communication from the University is that the people still there must be out by 10 am Saturday morning or risk arrest. If they leave, the University offers them a place in the discussion about the future of the tract.
“They have until 10:00 tomorrow morning to decide if they want to have a seat at the table for those discussions about how exactly we’ll keep urban agriculture going, and they have the choice to make about whether they want to have collaboration or possible confrontation,” Dan Mogulof, UC spokesperson said.
Occupier Gopal Dayaneni said they had no intention of leaving.
According to ABC7, Berkeley’s Judith Barish brought her three kids to help out at Occupy the Farm and had no qualms about their climbing the fence to get in. “People often have to break the law to stand up for something they believe in and while the university may or may not have law on its side, we think that the occupiers here have justice on their side,” she said. “Oh, no, I climb over fences a lot,” her daughter Sasha said laughingly when asked if she had issues with the fence-hopping.
See ABC video of occupiers on land and kids hopping the fence here
On April 23, we reported on Occupy activists seizing a 10 acre tract of land known as the “Gill Tract”, owned by University of California at Berkeley. They claimed they were seizing the land to preserve its farm nature, because the University was going to sell the property for retail development.
Except, as with other Occupy stories, their side of the story wasn’t quite true.
Turns out that while other land was being sold, the land being occupied was already being used for agricultural research by students and researchers of the University. Occupiers were well aware of this fact, as one of the Occupiers had actually been a student of one of the professors working the land.
According to NBC The Bay Area:
UC Berkeley Executive Vice Chancellor and Provost George Breslauer and Vice Chancellor John Wilton said in a letter to the community that the existing agricultural fields will continue to be used as an open-air laboratory by the students and faculty of the College of Natural Resources for agricultural research.
Breslauer and Wilton said the university has been actively participating in a collaborative, five-year long community engagement process about our its proposed development project but Occupy the Farm appears to have little regard for the process or the people who have participated in it.
They said, “We take issue with the protesters’ approach to property rights. By their logic they should be able to seize what they want if, in their minds, they have a better idea of how to use it.”
Some of UC Berkeley’s agricultural scientists working with the land weighed in on the issue, to the local Albany Patch newspaper.
Scientist Damon Lisch (an Albany resident and parent) wrote this week:
“I know, from talking to a lot of people, that science means something scary, corporate and alienating, but that has nothing to do with what we do. Our work is paid for by you through your tax dollars (mostly through the National Science Foundation and the USDA), and the results of our research are available to everyone. As long as these occupiers sit on our field, we can’t teach or make new discoveries, and that doesn’t seem right to me.”
The scientists noted that the longer the occupation stays the more it will throw off their work. For some of the graduate students it may delay their ability to get their degrees. For high school students that were to work with the scientists, they might not be able to have that experience. For Damon Lisch, it may mean that he loses his research grant:
“This year is critical for me, since I’m on the last year of a grant, and to kick-start my next grant (assuming I get one), I absolutely need to set up the proper genetics now. I should also mention that I am on soft money, which means all my income comes from grants, so no grants, no income. That means that what the Occupiers are doing is directly threatening my ability to support my family.
“I’d like to suggest that a lot of the people involved in Occupy the Farm probably had no idea of how much harm they were doing to our research, or what our research even is,” Lisch said.
The University noted that it would continue to have a dialogue with the activists and seek a “peaceful resolution”. They said the researchers need to be planting soon and their work cannot be impeded.
Occupiers have vowed to stay.
According to KGO TV, San Francisco,
A group of activists says it has taken over a tract of University of California at Berkeley-owned land on the Berkeley-Albany border and plans to plant seedlings and convert the land to agricultural use.
The group Occupy the Farm took over the property known as the Gill Tract, at San Pablo Avenue and Marin Avenue, this afternoon, and plans to stay overnight, group members said.
Activists described the property as “the last remaining 10 acres of Class I agricultural soil in the urbanized East Bay,” and noted that the university plans to sell the property for a retail development.
University officials and Albany police have not yet responded to calls seeking comment.
Private property isn’t private if Occupy wants it. If they want it, it is their right to take it.