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Council Candidates on the Gill Tract

Stay tuned this week as we share answers to your burning questions from City Council candidates. Click "Keep me posted" below for an alert when we publish items related to the November 2012 election.

Stay tuned this week as we share answers to your burning questions from Albany City Council candidates. Click "Keep me posted" below for an alert when we publish items about the election. Don't forget to mark your calendar for two forums in October to help you meet the candidates. See our full Abany 2012 Election Guide here. Have more questions? Comment on individual candidate profiles to ask for more information.

What was your participation, if any, in the occupation of the Gill Tract? And in general, how do you think the city should respond to individuals/groups who violate the law and say the purpose was for political, moral, or artistic expression? Where do the candidates stand on the referendum re: the development in Albany Village and on Occupy the Farm vs. the proposed Whole Foods/Senior Housing development? Do you think referendums effectively disenfranchise voters who chose elected officials—answerable to the electorate—to make certain decisions on behalf of the city? If you had been on the Council when the development agreement vote took place in July, would you have voted yes or no?

MICHAEL BARNES (PATCH PROFILE)

My participation in the Gill Tract occupation was to decry the naivety, the vacuousness and the criminality of the Occupy the Farm movement.

As for the referendum, here is what I stated on Patch when I first heard about it: 

"As someone who has watched with dismay at how the initiative process at the state level has led to California becoming virtually ungovernable (think Prop. 13 and supermajority requirements), I am loathe to see this same dysfunctional process coming to Albany.

"The five-year planning process that led to the City Council vote on the Whole Foods process may not have been perfect, but it was pretty good. There is very little that could be said at this point that hasn't already been considered over and over. 

"Albany had limited bargaining power, but I think the city played its hand well, and UC was willing to accept many compromises. Nobody gets everything they want. That's the nature of negotiation."

If I were on the council then, I would have voted for the mixed-use project. If I elected to council, I will fight for it. I believe this particular referendum was both ill-considered and done in a dishonest way. 

NICK PILCH (PATCH PROFILE)

I did not participate in the occupation of the Gill Tract. The answer to what the city should do depends on the circumstances. In this case, I understand that this was mostly a UC and UC Police issue. I was surprised at how long the Occupiers were allowed to stay. I do not support the referendum. The referendum could potentially stop the project, and I support the project. I assume "Occupy the Farm vs. the proposed Whole Foods/Senior Housing development" means Eric Larsen's lawsuit. I do not support this because its intention is to stop the current project and restart it essentially from the beginning. I am leery of referenda in part due to the reason stated in the question. I would have voted for the development agreement.

TOD ABBOTT (PATCH PROFILE)

My take on the Occupy the Farm action is stated in my posting on Patch from that time. My thoughts have not changed. That said, I do not condemn those who decide to commit a victimless crime in order to express their conscience provided they are prepared to accept the full responsibility for and consequences of their actions. 

Had I been on the council in July, I would have voted in support of the project going forward, and I strongly oppose the referendum opposing the UC Village multi-use development. My personal experience with the petition effort and conversation with some who signed the referendum suggest to me that the issue was not presented in a balanced or impartial manner, calling into significant question the force of the referendum. Certainly the referendum offers no basis on which to rescind the Council decision from July. 

For my take on representative democracy, look for my comment here.

PETER MAASS (PATCH PROFILE)

I did not participate in the occupation. If you violate the law, you should be prepared to deal with legal consequences. I think the referendum is regrettable and to some degree a waste of money. I do think that it will show that the majority of voters support development at the site as proposed by the university. Although I served on the Planning & Zoning Commission that has gotten this project to this point, I don’t feel disenfranchised. In our democracy, citizens have the right to gather signatures for the regress of grievances. I would have voted for the development agreement if I had been on the council, but I can’t say I’m a big fan of what appear to be last-minute changes, or decision-making at 1 a.m. In retrospect, a wiser course might have been to put off a decision to a date certain. In the future, I would propose that the city consider daytime meetings for the really big issues on either the weekends or perhaps during the work week. Very rarely in government, or life, are great decisions made at 1 a.m.

PEGGY THOMSEN (PATCH PROFILE)

I had no participation in the Gill Tract occupation. I think the city needs to look at a specific instance of violation and appropriately respond in a way that protects the public safety. As a sitting council member, I cannot comment on the referendum since this item will be before the council. I voted to approve the development agreement in July.

SHERI SPELLWOMAN (PATCH PROFILE)

On Earth Day 2012 a group of peaceful urban farm activists, called Occupy The Farm, held a direct nonviolent action on the Gill Tract Agricultural Fields to bring public attention to this land. While I do not agree with all the tactics that have been used by the activists, I am grateful that they have rekindled the public interest and discourse around this important issue. Like many residents, I went on the land and gained a first-hand appreciation for this valuable and historic farmland in the heart of Albany. Please visit my website for more information about my position. I was much more disturbed by the overwhelming police response to the activists by the UC. The police in riot gear, helicopters and the closing of San Pablo Avenue, so close to Ocean View Elementary School during school hours, was unnecessary and unacceptable. In regards to the UC Village Development Agreement, I would not have voted for it as it was presented in July for many reasons, including the size of the project. I think the scale is too big for that location. I would have supported a smaller commercial development. [Read more]

ULAN MCKNIGHT (PATCH PROFILE)

Many consider the Gill Tract to be the beating heart of Albany. Interested parties from all over the Bay Area have tried to preserve the farmland for well over 15 years. UC has recently shown a willingness to come to the table and create an Agro-Ecological center open to the community. I fully support this goal. 

As a city councilmember I will properly value this land. I will negotiate with UC for the absolute best possible agreement for Albany. Albany elementary schools visit Ardenwood Farms. Imagine if high school students from around the Bay came to visit the Gill Tract. Gill Tract was once a research center that educated the public and promoted California agriculture. With proper vision we can make it one again.

The Development Agreement with UC was a mistake and I would have voted against it. We gave UC far more than we needed to and received far less than we could have. The six acres of land they wish to develop may be worth as much as $40 million. After everything is said and done, UC estimates that Albany will see an additional $200,000 in revenue—about 1 percent of our budget. [Read more]

Click "Keep me posted" below for an alert when we publish items about the election. Don't forget to mark your calendar for two forums in October to help you meet the candidates. See our full Abany 2012 Election Guide here.

Brian Parsley October 11, 2012 at 03:40 AM
Lisa I would agree however I am troubled by Nick Pilch's sudden flip flop and his glaring omission about his part in destroying the University Mixed Use project. First in August he tells the Journal that he agrees with some parts of the referendum and disagrees with others. He also tells them he has no position on the project yet knows the Albany Strollers and Rollers and Carbon Neutral Albany, both of which he serves on as a board member, is planning to sue Albany. Now after Whole Foods has pulled out and has their sights set on Gilman St., he supports the project and opposes the referendum. He further blames Eric Larsen's lawsuit to stop the project yet all the while omitting that he was a part of the Albany Strollers and Rollers/ Carbon Neutral Albany lawsuit. Nick voted to sue the residents of Albany but he doesn't want to acknowledge it. I wonder why.
Lisa Schneider October 12, 2012 at 05:18 AM
I'd be thrilled if ANY of the candidates answered my questions above about Albany's and California's referendum conundrum. In theory, we all have the right to petition against anything, including open, labor- intensive collaborative governmental processes, on the last-minute grounds that, "hey, me and my associates just don't like the outcome." I'd like to know how the candidates would, going forward, encourage community engagement in decision-making while discouraging after-the-fact rug-pulling.
Nick Pilch October 14, 2012 at 07:16 AM
Lisa, in general, I do not support the referendum process. We have a representative democracy - we vote for people to represent us and make the decisions. Allowing referendums allows referendum writers to throw a wrench in the works and allows them to try to sway voters directly, quite often with deceptive tactics. Our representatives, whose job it is to throughly analyze issues, are bypassed.
Damon Lisch November 12, 2012 at 01:20 AM
I just drove by Gill and watched one of the occupiers stride purposefully over my research field, no doubt planning the future uses of Gill, secure in his knowledge that UC won't prosecute him and full of self-righteous indignation that it might. I guess if you are certain of the righteousness of your cause all bets are off, and whatever you do is OK because you are Good People. But it isn't. And they aren't. What OTF is doing is no different from the occupation of our library by religious fundamentalists bent on eliminating "non-Christian" books in the name of Godliness, or environmental fundamentalist fencing off Tilden Park so that humans are be excluded in favor of Nature. Once we let fanatics dictate our public policy, we lose our democracy. NOBODY voted for these people, and yet they think that they should be able to dictate what is to be done because they are willing to use force and because they claim to act in the name of "the community". Says who?
Robert Smith November 12, 2012 at 10:41 PM
Was it Ulan?

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