Advisors Meet with UC Dean to Discuss Future of Urban Farming, Research at Gill Tract

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A private meeting convened by representatives of the University of California at Berkeley, about the future of the , took place Saturday morning without participation by Occupy the Farm

Two members of Occupy the Farm, which took over a university-owned research field in April, were if they complied with several conditions, including returning control of the land to the university by 10 a.m. Saturday.

A member of Occupy the Farm said just before 11 a.m. that the group would , but would not return the land to UC control. 

The group has continued to demand unfettered access to the Gill Tract for urban farming activities they say will benefit the greater East Bay and be open to everyone. 

The university has countered that sensitive research operations in the field will not be able to move forward without some access restrictions, which have yet to be determined. Authorities have, however, said they are open to devoting some part of the field to urban farming activities in the current season and, potentially, in the future.  

The university locked the gates to the Gill Tract, and stationed police and private security guards on the site, over the past few days, but that hasn't stopped supporters of Occupy the Farm from entering and exiting at will. (The group reportedly set up a ladder and slide into the site on Saturday morning.)

Until the April 22 "occupation," gates from both San Pablo Avenue and Jackson Street had been kept locked, with access limited to researchers and staff. Occupy the Farm members cut the locks and entered the gates on April 22 to set up extensive urban farming activities, in what they have described as an act of civil disobedience that had been planned for six months.


Seventeen people attended the Saturday morning meeting, which was held at the . 

Dean Keith Gilless, who ran the meeting, said his goal was to get advice from a range of interested parties about the future of the Gill Tract, both in the near-term and further down the line. As dean of the College of Natural Resources, Gilless said he has operational authority over the growing space.

Meeting participants included representatives from the city of Albany, University Village, a range of urban farming and sustainability advocates, and members of the Albany Unified School District. 

Participants voiced loud and clear, though there wasn't much time for details, the vast potential of the site to meet a range of community interests and involve a broad cross-section of participants if an urban farming program is developed.

The university made clear, however, that rules will have to be set about who can access the site, and when, to protect both research on the Gill Tract and the university from potential liability. 

Julie Sinai, the director of Local Government & Community Relations for UC Berkeley, summarized some of the key points that came out of the discussion. 

"We've talked about a new era in the whole issue," she said, as far as the university's relationship to metropolitan agriculture. "There are a lot of new opportunities we haven't even touched the surface on quite yet." 

The university will look at plans for both the summer and the longer term, she said, and continue to connect with community members who can help develop and oversee a metropolitan agriculture program at the Gill Tract. 

Dean Gilless said he had already actively been looking into a new teaching position in his department that would help flesh out the school's metropolitan agriculture offerings. 

Sinai said she heard a definite interest from participants in the room that the Albany Unified School District be involved with future programming initiatives or learning opportunities on the Gill Tract.

Maile Urbancic, a resident who attended the meeting along with Village director Tavie Tipton, suggested the creation of what she described as a "stewardship council" that would include members from a range of affected parties; help manage volunteering efforts at the Gill Tract; and help develop urban farming efforts on the land. 

They would, she continued, work according to rules set by the university, but could at the same time ensure that site access, efforts and management maintain a local voice, with room for various interests. 

Urbancic's idea seemed to meet with support among participants, and a brainstorming session ensued about who might have a seat at the table if such a council is formed. 

One participant suggested the council might best be managed by University Village, due to its proximity, and the fact that its residents are members of both the Albany and UC Berkeley communities. 

The university said Saturday's meeting was simply an advisory session to jumpstart both short- and long-term thinking, especially as a mid-month deadline looms to begin preparing the field for agricultural research set to begin June 1. The meeting was kept private, officials said, to allow for frank convesation.

The university said it plans to include the public in future discussions; several meeting participants said transparency would be a key element in moving the discussion forward. 

said after the meeting that she was eager for Albany residents to begin working with the university to see what can happen at the Gill Tract, both this summer and beyond. She said it was clear to her that the university wants Albany residents to have a voice and role in the process.  

Dean Keith Gilless said what he drew from the discussion was a sense of what the future might bring for the Gill Tract.

"What this meeting gave me was a real sense of the astonishing potential of the Gill Tract to support research, to support teaching, and to support the broader community's interest in urban agriculture," he said. "The potential is absolutely stunningly clear to me."

Exactly how this develops, however, is anyone's guess. Gilless said he'll work in the coming days to find a way to "help parties that don't trust each other find a path to the future. That is what I'm struggling with."

"There are mutually exclusive visions for the future, which all have their merits," he continued. "I'm distrustful, however, of a vision that asserts the priority of one vision over the others. Especially if paths forward exist that are not mutually exclusive."

Gilless said he wasn't yet sure if he would visit the Gill Tract on Saturday to speak with members of Occupy the Farm. 

"I have to stop and think," he said. 

[Editor's Note: Albany Patch was allowed to attend the meeting to capture and convey what was discussed, and to reflect issues raised, in exchange for agreeing to two main conditions: No live coverage and no quotations from participants without their express approval after the session.] 

Click the "Keep me posted" button below for an update when we publish future stories on this topic. Read more on Albany Patch about the Gill Tract occupation.

If there's something in this article you think , or if something else is amiss, call editor Emilie Raguso at 510-459-8325 or email her at albany@patch.com.

Ulan McKnight May 13, 2012 at 04:46 PM
PS: My argument is pretty simple. I say UC needs to follow the law and discuss all of the land. It is easy to prove me wrong.  1) Show that UC does not have a legal obligation to discuss all the land. 2) Show that UC has already followed this process.  To date, no one has proven either. 
Madisonian May 13, 2012 at 05:18 PM
Very telling that OTF rejected the opportunity to participate in this meeting. In case there was any doubt, this would appear conclusive evidence that the occupiers are not interested in a "dialogue" but in a unilateral imposition of their demands on the entire Albany community.
Arwen May 13, 2012 at 05:18 PM
Dear Emilie, In this article you wrote: "A private meeting convened by representatives of the University of California at Berkeley, about the future of the Gill Tract, took place Saturday morning without participation by Occupy the Farm. Two members of Occupy the Farm, which took over a university-owned research field in April, were invited to attend the meeting if they complied with several conditions, including returning control of the land to the university by 10 a.m. Saturday." One of the conditions you failed to mention is the members of Occupy The Farm had to agree to leave the property as a condition precedent to coming to the meeting. Why should they do that? The University has always been invited to The Farm since the Occupiers entered the property in late April, 2012. The University has chosen not to do that. Rather the University sent the University police with "chemical agents" to threaten everyone on the property including their own tenured professor, Dr. Altierri who was set to plant his crops for his research. Moreover, the University crafts a disingenous media campaign indicating they have been somehow reasonable in this situation when in fact they have been lying through their teeth. The University has sold out The Gill Tract to higher corporate bidders to enrich themselves at the cost to the publc, students and the American tax payer. They are to be condemned and should be investigated for everything they have done.
Arwen May 13, 2012 at 05:32 PM
Dover: You wrote: "Congratulations to Ulan and the other new Does! Your mamas must be so proud." Your tone indicates this is a dig, personal insult, sarcastic remark unneccessary in what is suppose to be a civil conversation. For one who quotes the Bible, you do not act like much of a Christian, do you? You may want to discuss that with your mother. As for Ulan, I am sure his mother is very proud of hm as he stands up for his principles as she always wanted him to do. Ulan and all the other defendants will win in the civil suit. Great opportunity for us to find out what the University has been up to and try this case in the press. .
Alison Horton May 13, 2012 at 05:33 PM
I am so tired of these jerks who piss all over our democratic process because, well, they just feel like it. I almost said I don;t understand why, but I guess I do understand why UC is bending over backwards to treat them with respect when they have treated the citizens of Albany (who have been negotiating with UC for years) with remarkable disrespect. I live in Albany and I want the protesters out, completely out. I want the researchers back in without having to share anything. And I want the same process we have been engaged in to continue at the same pace. If an Albanian comes to the meetings and wants a farm, great. Lets take up the subject like we would normally. No fast tracking of the protesters demands. No treating them like they deserve respect even if they have gathered some sympathetic yet misguided Albanians to their cause. I prefer the normal law and order and due process. Spanking them on their bottoms with lawsuits on one side and rewarding their hissy fits by taking up their demands on the other side is just odd. Or is that an example of the new parenting that has earned all the bad press lately?
Tatter Salad May 13, 2012 at 06:30 PM
The "We want dialog regarding ALL the land" you are pitching today doesn't fly. (Just as: "It's UC vs. Albany..."; "UC is in league with the Agr-business nazi's..."; "Community tomatoes is the efficient thing to do...", "The land is to be developed for a WHOLE FOOD store...OMG", ..."Yada yada...". The OTF moves from myth to myth; WHY would anyone want a group of you on a committee discussing ALL U.C. land and projects?! Meanwhile: in reality, during 2010: six million children died of starvation. Also, bioethanol (you know: you mix water, fertilizer and the sun) has increased the value of corn such that 'Tortilla riots' broke out in Mexico City because of the high cost of corn. We need better corn. Mexico needs better corn production. Chevron needs:... well, you guys, since you prefer tomatoes. Best of luck in court! I'll loan you a tie.
Ed Fields May 13, 2012 at 06:58 PM
Alison, I have "been negotiating with UC for years" if by that you mean attending all the public meetings about development at UC Village (Whole Foods and senior assisted living project). I have raised the issue of the Gill Tract for 5 years at those meetings; I have commented on the Environmental Impact Report, etc. UC has consistently maintained that the Gill Tract is not part of the project and refused to discuss it. Only when the Little League got a commitment from UC to preserve the ball fields, even if they had to be moved, was the Gill Tract implicitly considered. There were a few "stake-holder" meetings sponsored by the City where we could talk about how an urban farm might fit in, but the meetings stopped, and there was was never any plan on the part of UC for anything to happen. I have advocated for an urban farm which easily fits in with UC's urban agricuture programs, as Dean Gilless is now clearly pointing out. The pace of "negotiations" wasn't even glacial, it was non-existent. In three weeks the action by OTF got far more discussion and consideration than 5 years of what you call "due process". Other people had been trying to work with UC on the issue for probably 15 years. I marched to the Gill Tract on April 22. But I left two days later for a long planned for vacation, from where I am now writing. Ed Fields Albany resident
Bart Grossman May 13, 2012 at 06:58 PM
I think the University has put up with this occupation long enough. I oppose the University negotiating or even offering to negotiate with a group of outsiders who have no legal standing, when there is an ongoing planning process underway involving the Albany community. I don't understand why the police are allowing this shoot and ladder nonsense to continue. Enough is enough.
Ed Fields May 13, 2012 at 07:09 PM
Hello Bart, Clearly we disagree on this. But which "ongoing planning process underway involving the Albany community" are you referring to? See my comment just above. Ed
Michael Barnes May 13, 2012 at 08:12 PM
Ed, Christopher Church's thoughtful opinion piece pointed out these document: http://www.albanyca.org/index.aspx?page=709 It sure looks like there was a reasonable dialogue taking place in 2008, although I don't know what happened after the 12/16/08 meeting. Brief Summary of Concerns/Questions/Comments 1. Most comments felt that there is room for everything if we plan it efficiently and well, and if everyone can compromise, although some of the urban farm advocates who attended this meeting would prefer that the entire existing agricultural area remain agricultural. 2. There are many opportunities for design options that need to be addressed, and should include University compromises, for instance, using density to save land area—an example being a two story community center. It is good that the University is willing to be a participant in the process. 3. There are many concerns about feasibility and cost, and how to move any individual item forward.
Tatter Salad May 13, 2012 at 08:41 PM
Ulan, I apologize for the above being polemic; I certainly do not wish to facilitate the 'Us vs. Them' attitude, and having read your guide manuals (http://ruckus.org/section.php?id=82 ) , neither do you. In fact,the manuals are very clear that you should, “Ask yourself, are you at high, low, or medium interest to law enforcement? ” and you state that interest is a function of: “Target has huge power, e.g. the military/politicians/police ” and little police interest if “Target is weaker, with less connections to power-holders, eg. : “People of color / Marginalized people” vs. “White people” “Anti-capitalist/revolutionary extremist goals vs. Moderate, reformist goals”. And that leads us to comparing your occupation of a cornfield to your organizations guidelines. The University doesn't care enough to eject you, as long as you pay for the damages. You have moved your 'public goal statement' through eight different areas now, and you continue to ignore the starving (9-million deaths in 3rd world countries) that the University Ag department is targeting; YOU are taking aim at “People of color /Marginalized people” - ( and WE CARE!) while you attempt to paint the action as against “White people” and "Monsanto." So I ask you plainly: how dumb are your followers? Or can they not speak freely to you, or us, -as have Professor's Romm and Alteri (-you know, members of the Evil University).
Dover May 13, 2012 at 09:56 PM
I never claimed to be a Christian, Arwen, quite the contrary. I thought you were going to start paying attention? What happened?
Dover May 13, 2012 at 10:04 PM
Alison, were you on a bike at the west gate last Wednesday? Did you get involved in a bit of an argument with an obnoxious woman (Ocean View parent, used the phrase "rioted on") when she interrupted your conversation with someone else and then proceeded to tell you that you were not entitled to an opinion, simply because it did not jibe with hers? If so, I have video of most of the conversation. I watched it with my spouse after I went home. You were great! We were both impressed with your spunk, intelligence and clarity. Thank you for using your brain. It seems that many around here have turned theirs over to the PC demigods as a means of appeasing their own personal demons.
Arwen May 13, 2012 at 10:54 PM
Dover... I can see why you would not claim to be a Christian but you personal insults, sarcastic remarks are unneccesary in what is suppose to be a civil conversation. Why insult Ulan and bring in his mother? He appears to be sincere in his claims and is trying to reason with an unreasonable, prejudiced twit. . Do you talk to your mother in the same way you talk to Ulan? If so, I sure would like to have a talk with her about you.
Arwen May 13, 2012 at 10:56 PM
Sounds like a great idea!
Arwen May 13, 2012 at 11:07 PM
Tatter Salad: Why would you write "BTW Ulan: Congratulations: time for you to lawyer-up!" Was that suppose to be a helpful remark? Are you suggesting that Ulan get an attorney? Many of the attorneys representing these defendants are doing it for free. The case is a great test case, will get lots of publicity and is one that will be tried in the press for years. Great publicity for any attorney! If the defendats file a cross complaint as well as an action in federal court they can ask the federal court to take pendent jurisdiction over the state claims, have the state case transfered to federal court and they are out of Alameda Superior Court. Federal court in San Francisco is not influenced by University money and politics and the Ninth Circuit is great!. That would be their best move! Perhaps you would like to pay the University's legal bill? Don't worry it will be coming out of your taxes. :) Why don't you suggest to the University that they settle now?
Arwen May 13, 2012 at 11:09 PM
Tatter Salad: There are not going to be any damages for Ulan to pay because the University is going to lose this case and bring themselves down in the process.
Arwen May 13, 2012 at 11:10 PM
Bea...there is little too much sugar in your question. :)
Arwen May 13, 2012 at 11:12 PM
Round up Fivegan and plant him. :)
Arwen May 13, 2012 at 11:20 PM
You wrote: "...a group of outsiders who have 'no legal standing'" On what basis do you say they have no legal standing...is it because you, as a resident of Albany have been trying to negotiate with the University and they have ignored you? That comment was not a legal conclusion was it?
Just an Albanyan May 13, 2012 at 11:20 PM
Thanks Mary-Beth, in my mind "returning control of the land to the university" is equivalent to "leave the property". Emilie is a pro and doesn't need to answer why occupiers would or would not leave - that is for the occupiers to do. How has the University been lying through their teeth? The research is funded by USDA and NSF grants, as has been established. The sources that you cited expired years ago. The tract does not and will not grow GMO crops. This has been established. Please do not continue to bring these up.
Dover May 13, 2012 at 11:21 PM
Why would you imagine Ulan is insulted? He's been courting this lawsuit for days. He should be relieved. He's now a made member of the trespassers. Cause for celebration, no? As for my mother, as long as I don't lie in court of law or lie about my background, my education, my career, who gave me the top secret documents, etc, etc, etc, she's happy. ;-}
Arwen May 13, 2012 at 11:25 PM
Allison...I hear your frustraton with having the UC treat you and the other citizens of Albany with disrespect for many years. Maybe you should go talk to the people at The Farm and ask them how they managed to get the University to treat them with respect and negotiate them?
Caryl O'Keefe May 14, 2012 at 01:28 AM
"The University has always been invited to The Farm since the Occupiers entered the property in late April, 2012. The University has chosen not to do that. Rather the University sent the University police.." Incorrect on two counts. UC Dean of the College of Natural Resources Gilless chose to visit the Gill Tract “on numerous occasions” per Don Mogulof of UC’s Office of Public Affairs. Gilless’s April 24 visit was described in http://albany.patch.com/articles/farm-activists-speak-out-to-city-after-visit-from-uc-dean. And, University police ARE part of UC, hence the “university” part of the job title. My understanding is that UC police have visited the Gill Tract daily to notify those present that they are trespassing, and should leave.
Ed Fields May 14, 2012 at 06:52 AM
Yes, Michael, in short--absolutely nothing happened. I attended, I think maybe 2 of the 3 or 4 meetings. You can check the sign in sheets. They were sponsored by the City, not UC. There were people from UC,'s Community Relations; I don't remember anyone from CNR. They were a good exercise, (I mean that sincerely), but it wasn't clear to me that UC took them with any degree of seriousness--that anything was going to happen as a result of them. And as far as I know, nothing ever did. Dean Gilless chose his words carefully when he said he has "operational authority over the growing space". UC's real estate people--Captial Projects Office--took control over the Gill Tract years ago, and the researchers were told they would have to relocate to Lafayette or Pinole, I think.
Arwen May 14, 2012 at 10:29 AM
It appears to me after reading your comments, many of you are angry, disgruntled, disappointed, dismayed and perhaps jealous of the kind of attention and respect the young people at The Farm have received from the University after you have spent long years trying to negotiate with them in countless meetings where they chose to ignore you. Rather than taking out your anger, etc. on the University, the real culprit in this scenario, you have chosen to project that anger on to the Occupiers. The people at the Farm come on to the Gill Tract unaware of you or your prior dealings with the University. They can be your allies rather than your enemies as you have chosen to make them. They are not your adversaries but have many of the ideals for urban farming that you have. Why not join forces with them rather than remain divided? Together you can bring pressure to bear on the University to have the land work for the public interest rather than corporate interests. Make the University work for you, the tax payers. Get rid of the University staff including the Dean(s) who do not respond or pay lip service to your requests. Do not let the University or your pride divide and conquer you. Do not let people in your ranks deter you. Reach out for a meeting of the minds with the people at the Farm. Align yourselves with University professors such as Altierri who would promote and share your goals. Good luck and many blessings to all of you.
Ross Stapleton-Gray May 14, 2012 at 02:43 PM
"The people at the Farm come on to the Gill Tract unaware of you or your prior dealings with the University." That, if true, is pretty damning. Arwen, it's rather insulting to others to describe how they're doubtless feeling, and ascribe those feelings to their being confused, underinformed, etc. (and especially if that comes from a position of ignorance, though I actually do think that many of the trespassers had something of an idea who Albanians were, and the range of prior discussions).
Dover May 14, 2012 at 02:49 PM
"unaware of you" And that, ladies and gentlemen, says it all.
Francis Chapman May 14, 2012 at 03:09 PM
Back around 2003-2004 we heard from a "Save the Gill Tract" group in the context of a San Pablo Avenue re-zoning process. We chose not to support their goals then because we thought they were impractical and not the best use of the land for the neighborhood. Why does illegal occupation lead getting priority in the planning process? There is no support for this idea among neighbors we have talked to in the Oceanview community, just about everyone simply wants to see the occupiers off the Gill Tract. As far as I can tell the occupiers are a small number of people who have committed a lot of time to being busy on Patch, email and other media, and who brought a large crowd to at least one Planning and Zoning meeting, but I don't think this crowd represents the views of a large number of Albany residents. We are inadvertently on their community email distribution list. There are 3 or 4 people sending emails to no response. You can hear the cricket's chirping. From my point of view the Gill Tract would better serve the community as a park, and I'd like to see a grocery store (sized in accordance with San Pablo Commercial District zoning) in the location envisioned for Whole Foods with mitigation measures to prevent cut-through traffic in residential areas. The city should engage the local community about maintaining a farm indefinitely on the Gill Tract, I don't think support is there and I can't understand why a long process should be hijacked at this stage.
Emilie Raguso May 15, 2012 at 06:10 AM
The school district and city issued a joint statement Monday about Saturday's meeting. I've added it as a PDF with this story.


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