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UC Plan Would Convert Cornfields to Ball Fields

Friday July 25, 2003

Following a series of domino effects set off by the need for more student housing, UC is planning to convert Albany’s Gill Tract urban agriculture plots into Little League diamonds next spring. The farming space is currently used by the university’s College of Natural Resources (CNR) to conduct agriculture research projects. 

The plan to build on the Gill Tract land is part of a larger UC proposal to redevelop the University Village, a 77-acre area devoted primarily to housing for UC students with children. The plans calls for an expansion of the village, which in turn would displace the baseball fields adjacent to the housing complex. Those fields would then move to the Gill Tract lot, on San Pablo Avenue near Marin Avenue, which is also owned by UC. 

The proposal needs only the approval of the UC Board of Regents, a decision expected early this fall pending the results of an environmental impact report. 

“We are trying to strike a balance between all the different needs,” UC Berkeley capital projects planner Jeff Bond said. “As everybody knows, there is a real need for housing and not many possible places to put it.”  

He added that the baseball fields were an essential element of the university plan because of the area’s lack of recreational facilities. 

The proposed future site of the baseball diamonds was acquired by UC in 1929 from the Gill family, under the university’s land grant system. Since 1995, the land has been operated by CNR. 

CNR students and faculty have worked for two years to save at least part of the Gill Tract land for farming, but have been unsuccessful in their attempts. Last year, several concerned students, professors and neighbors formed the Urban Roots coalition to create alternative proposals that would allow for more student housing while retaining the farm land. 

One proposal, designed by Carla Hyman of DSA Architects, was submitted to UC Berkeley’s Capital Projects department earlier this year. Hyman’s plan called for the baseball fields to be relocated to an area south of the Gill Tract, an idea Bond and other university officials rejected because of parking and traffic concerns. 

“We were not presented with any other feasible alternatives,” Bond said. Many students and supporters of urban agriculture projects were dismayed to learn that the farmland would be eliminated. Josh Miner, a graduate student researcher within CNR, said his studies would be inhibited by the development of the area. 

“It shows a tremendous lack of forethought on the part of the university,” Miner said. “I do understand that there are a lot of pressures for that land, but the Gill Tract is the only thing really like it. To get rid of that gets rid of a lot of educational opportunities. There is a great feeling of disappointment that they wouldn’t see it as some kind of resource.”  

But despite the disappointment prevalent among Gill Tract researchers and supporters, most said they had accepted that the redevelopment plan will go on as planned. 

“It’s a done deal,” Miner said. “We know that this year is going to be our last planting season, and that next summer we’ll be out of there. Everything is all set.” 

Miner said the research facilities currently on the Gill Tract land will most likely be moved to a location in West Contra Costa County. 

“We’ll probably be out in Orinda or somewhere out there,” Miner said. “I feel like they’re trading one set of issues for another. And even if the greenhouses are out it’s not going to be the same type of setup. It will be inferior to what we have now.”