The University of California is willing to cease pursuing criminal prosecution against protesters who have been occupying a university-owned parcel of land in Albany since Earth Day in the name of urban agriculture, university officials announced this afternoon.
The group that occupied Gill Tract, a parcel of land near Marin and San Pablo avenues used for research, planted vegetables at the site and are demanding the land be preserved for sustainable agriculture.
The university says it already had plans to expand its urban agriculture program and is now asking protesters to leave the land and join a discussion about Gill Tract's future.
"We are moving on and can only hope they will quickly decide to choose collaboration over confrontation," read a letter signed by UC Berkeley Executive Vice Chancellor and Provost George Breslauer and Vice Chancellor of Administration and Finance John Wilton.
On Wednesday, the university filed a trespass and nuisance lawsuit against 14 people it alleges illegally occupied the land on April 22, when protesters calling their movement "Occupy the Farm" took over the 10-acre plot.
Protesters allege that UC plans to replace the current agricultural land with commercial, recreational and open space, although the university says the land will continue to be used as an open-air laboratory by the College of Natural Resources, which conducts the agricultural research.
The university says it will hold a planning meeting Saturday that will address "details of how the Gill Tract will be shared by our researchers and urban agriculture" and how the university will supervise the activities.
City officials, residents of UC's nearby University Village and UC Berkeley faculty members and students are among the participants, and the university said it has reserved two seats at the discussion table for Occupy representatives -- on the condition that occupiers vacate the parcel by 10 a.m. Saturday, encampment and all.
If that happens, the university said it will back down from criminal and civil actions against the occupiers. Otherwise, the university plans to devise plans for the land without their input, claiming that research work must begin in a few days and is the university's priority.
"Our commitment to act in its support is firm and non-negotiable," the letter read.
Occupiers, however, said they have no intention of leaving by Saturday and have numerous scheduled events through the weekend, including Mother's Day celebrations.
"If we walk away, then we can have two people participate in some meeting that they've created that's not public," Gopal Dayaneni said this afternoon. "It doesn't seem like the open, public, transparent process that we've been trying to cultivate."
The demonstrators have, however, cleared their gear and equipment from the space on the parcel's north side that researchers need to proceed with their work, Dayaneni said.
"Really, the university is in the way of the researchers coming in at this point," he said.
A college representative spoke with protesters today about the university's planned meeting, although Dayaneni said they "more or less" heard about their plans through the media.
The occupiers say they will not back down until the university agrees to allow them to co-exist with the researchers, grant them continued access to the plot and pursue a public dialog about the land's future.
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