UC Berkeley officials Wednesday night said the "Occupy the Farm" activists who took over the university-owned Gill Tract in Albany must abandon their 11-day-old camp but that the campus is willing to discuss shared farming use of the tract with "other community-based individuals and organizations."
University researchers who conduct crop-growing research at the Gill Tract need to begin preparing the field by the middle of this month, said a "Dear Neighbors" letter from UC officials. The occupiers have planted their own crops and erected a tent camp in the main crop-growing area of the 10-acre tract, which is prominently located just southwest of the intersection of San Pablo and Marin avenues.
The letter also said that representatives of the campus and the occupiers will meet tonight, Thursday, "to discuss ending the encampment and other, related issues." The meeting is not public, said UC Berkeley spokesman Dan Mogulof.
Several dozen advocates of community urban farming took over the site on Earth Day, April 22. They object in part to a long-range UC plan to convert the agricultural tract to recreational and open space.
The UC letter said the campus doesn't want to use force but time is running out.
"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," the letter said. "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."
The letter is signed by UC Berkeley's Executive Vice Chancellor and Provost, George Breslauer, and the Vice Chancellor for Administration and Finance, John Wilton. (The full letter is attached to this article.)
The campus in recent days has "received numerous letters from members of the surrounding community that express deepening frustration with the encampment," the letter said.
In the camp is removed, the university is willing to discuss sharing use of the tract since its researchers do not need the entire acreage, Breslauer and Wilton said.
Asked if a shared-use agreement might allow the activists to keep their crops where they were planted, Mogulof said, "First things first," indicating that the issue of the encampment must first be addressed.
Although the campus Master Plan for the site calls for eventually converting the Gill Tract to recreational and open space, the university "is open to further discussions with the community about implementation of the Master Plan on this portion of the property," the letter said.
"However," it added, "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."
The campus and the City of Albany have been engaged in years of planning discussions about UC Village, the student housing complex next door to the Gill Tract. The issue that has drawn the most community interest in recent times is the UC proposal for a Whole Foods market and senior housing on part of the UC Village land.
Albany Patch has extensive coverage of the Gill Tract occupation. For past El Cerrito Patch articles on the occupation, click "Gill Tract" next to Related Topics below. For alerts to future El Cerrito Patch articles on the topic, click the Keep me posted button below.