EDITOR'S NOTE: These open letters were issued by contending parties in the dispute over the occupation of what is now agricultural land on the Gill Tract, which has been managed over several decades by the University of California at Berkeley.
Public Affairs, UC Berkeley | April 27, 2012
In response to recent events at the Gill Tract in Albany, the University of California, Berkeley, which owns and manages the site, issued the following open letter to members of the local community today.
It is apparent that the occupation protest currently unfolding on the Gill Tract adjacent to the University Village has created some degree of confusion and concern about future plans and present facts. So, in the same spirit of collaboration and constructive dialogue that has characterized our relationship with the Albany community for many years, we want to provide you with some essential information about how the land is currently being used, plans for the future and the process we have been engaged in with the City of Albany and its residents since 2007.
Aerial view of Gill Tract and University Village master-plan area
• The agricultural fields on the Gill Tract that are now being occupied are not the site of a proposed assisted living center for senior citizens and a grocery store. The proposed development parcel is to the south, straddling the intersection of Monroe Street and San Pablo Avenue, and has not been farmed since WWII.
• The existing agricultural fields on the Gill Tract are currently, and for the foreseeable future, being used as an open-air laboratory by the students and faculty of our College of Natural Resources for agricultural research. Their work encompasses basic plant biology, alternative cropping systems, plant-insect interactions and tree pests and pathogens. These endeavors are part of the larger quest to provide a hungry planet with more abundant food, and will be impeded if the protest continues. And, they are categorically not growing genetically modified crops. We have an obligation to support their education and research, and an obligation to the American taxpayers who are funding these federally funded projects.
Complete Gill Tract coverageLast week: University officials visit Gill Tract to speak with protesters
• The university has been actively participating in a collaborative, five-year long community engagement process about our proposed development project with hundreds of hours of meetings, hearings and dialogue. We have a great deal of respect for all those who have been involved and regret that “Occupy the Farm” appears to have little regard for the process or the people who have participated in it.
• 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.
• We remain committed to moving forward, together with the Albany City Council and Planning Commission, with the commercial development of the parcel straddling the intersection of Monroe Street and San Pablo Avenue, where WWII barracks stood until recently. Our request to postpone the Planning Commission meeting was born in part of our sensitivity to the needs and interests of community members, many of whom are studying the details of the project for the first time as the result of media interest in the protest.
• The 2004 University Village Master Plan describes a proposal to eventually convert the 10-plus acre agricultural research parcel between Marin Avenue and Village Creek to open and recreational space for the community. As of now research projects are continuing and the university has not taken any steps to implement the Master Plan on the parcel. We have welcomed community workshops to explore the future use of this land and we continue to be open to further discussions with the community about implementation of the Master Plan on this portion of the property.
• We are passionate advocates of metropolitan agriculture projects that are well planned, sustainable and considerate of all members of our community. Representatives of the university are more than willing to meet with any interested community members to discuss proposals for metropolitan, sustainable agriculture.
• The university will continue the dialogue and discussions with the protesters as we seek a peaceful resolution. However, our researchers need to begin planting in the very near future and we cannot allow their work to be impeded. For that reason we are calling on the occupiers to dismantle their encampment immediately and establish a representative group to meet with UC Berkeley representatives to discuss opportunities for a metropolitan agriculture program affiliated with the campus.
If you are interested in additional, detailed information here is a list of useful web sites:
- The 2004 Master Plan (PDF)
- A university FAQ on the proposed mixed-use commercial development (PDF)
- City of Albany “mixed use retail” website
- City of Albany website on the Gill Tract
As you read this letter, East Bay families and farmers continue to seed, weed, and water at Occupy The Farm. Public events over this weekend have included workshops by members of the community and the opening of the “Ladybug Patch” children’s area. For most Albany residents this is the first time they have ever been invited onto, or set foot upon this land.
We are writing you to correct the misinformation circulated by the University Administration in their recent open letter.
The University administration's position does NOT represent the position of the entire university community. For example, there are 8 faculty members within the College of Natural Resources that are actively supporting the idea of turning the Gill Tract into an urban farm. These faculty's interest in the Gill Tract stems from their affiliation with Berkeley's new Diversified Farming Systems Center, whose mission is closely aligned with Occupy the Farm's mission to promote "sustainable agriculture to meet local needs." Building on the long history of the parcel as a home for Miguel Altieri's agroecological research, the Gill Tract could potentially become a center for community outreach, agroecology, and urban farming – thereby meeting the growing interests of the university in socially and ecologically sustainable farming, and the needs of the local East Bay community.
We are well aware of the history of this land and the debates about its future. We encourage everyone to examine the University's 2004 Master Plan, which clearly indicates that the historic agricultural field we have planted is intended to be developed. This field used to belong to the College of Natural resources, but has long since been transferred to Capital Projects, the development arm of the University of California. The UC allows researchers use of the field, but as long as this master plan remains in effect the clock is ticking, and the planned redevelopment will displace all researchers from this land as well.
We are acutely aware that our presence on this land presents challenges for the researchers who have been using this land as well as for the neighbors living around it. Our inability to provide advance notice for this action has certainly compounded this inconvenience. We recognize that it will take time and hard work to solidify good relationships with our neighbors, and we are humbled by the grace we have been shown by nearby residents, the UC Village, and the Ocean View Elementary School, and grateful to those who have allowed us to open lines of communication. We are hopeful that dialogue with the researchers can lead to a mutually acceptable resolution that reconciles the needs of those using the land for research with the long term goal of preserving this land as farmland for future generations.
The UC's letter clearly exposes how out of touch it is with the Albany community. The UC claims to have been "actively participating in a collaborative, five-year-long community engagement process." After five years of this supposed “collaboration” and “community engagement”, the same letter acknowledges that most Albany residents "are studying the details of the project for the first time as the result of media interest in the protest." Albany community members have not been aware of this proposal because the UC has not engaged in a sufficiently open and participatory process. As Ulan McKnight, an Albany resident, says, “The process included no real collaboration. The University may have 'listened' to the community, but ignored their proposals and suggestions.”
Despite more than a decade of requests by many members of the community that the land be used for agriculture in service of the public interest, the UC continues to offer the land up for non-agricultural uses. In 1997, the UC walked away from the table during the final stages of deliberating a proposal for the Gill Tract drafted by a coalition of UC professors, residents, and more than 30 local non-profits known as the Bay Area Coalition for Urban Agriculture (BACUA).These negotiations were abandoned with no explanation. Mara Duncan, an Albany resident for 16 years, says, “Long before the Whole Foods proposal, 1200 people in the community signed a petition asking to make the Gill Tract a community farm. When the Whole Foods proposal came, many of the voices supporting an urban farm felt shut out by the UC and the deliberative process.”
Dan Siegel, our legal counsel, points out that the UC is not only violating the public trust, it may also be violating the law. According to Siegel, “Since the Gill Tract represents one of the few remaining agricultural spaces in northern Alameda County, preserving it as a productive farm is consistent with public policy and the public interest.” Siegel cites several statues, including California Civic Code 815, which “declares that the preservation of land in its natural, scenic, agricultural, historical, forested, or open space condition is among the most important environmental assets of California.”
Our goal is to prevent development of agricultural land, and to allow the community to be engaged with the land. Support for The Farm is building because it represents an important hope for urban agriculture and community in the East Bay. Please join us in protecting our most valuable community resource. Farmland is for Farming.