University Shuts Off Water, as Occupy Activists Say Sustainable Community is the Goal

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[Editor's Note: This is a quick snapshot from a brief visit to the Gill Tract on Monday afternoon. Patch will be out there for the remainder of Monday, and will continue to cover the issue into the foreseeable future. Have questions you'd like us to try to answer? Please let us know in the comments.]

Stepping into the Gill Tract on Monday afternoon, more than an acre of land had been weeded, rototilled and planted, with more work underway by a group of activists for social justice and urban farming who Sunday. 

A potluck is planned for 6 p.m. on Monday for everyone interested to know more about the effort happening in the southwest of San Pablo and Marin avenues. 

University and city of Albany officials said Monday that they're hoping for a to the occupation.

On Monday, just before 4 p.m., one activist said the university had shut off water to the fields, and urged supporters to contact the chancellor's office to protest the decision. 

Earlier in the day, farmers on the Gill Tract said they're making plans to cultivate parts of the 15-acre lot for the long haul.

"This land, we feel, has been underutilized and doesn't stand to benefit the people in our community," said Lesley Haddock, 20, a media liaison for the group Take Back the Tract. "We want it to serve as a model for urban agriculture, in a time when people feel insecure about where their food comes from. We want to demonstrate we can sustain ourselves in a way that's healthy, genetically pure and longterm." 

Haddock, a current UC Berkeley undergraduate who's originally from Petaluma, described the group's plans and the layout of the site on Monday afternoon.

Entering the farm, visitors can see, on the right, an information table and library boasting a range of books, with a medic tent and food area on the left. Every night, the group plans to rebuild its encampment depending on where the day's farming took place, and will take down the tents before work begins the next day.

"This is a sustainable community that provides for the people's needs as long as they're here," said Haddock. "It's a real community experience." 

Haddock said students, faculty and community members tried for 15 years to express their desires and dreams to the university for a community garden at the Gill Tract, but met with no success. 

"We're at the point of last resort," she said. "We were not getting anywhere through traditional discourse. The field's been lying fallow since winter, and we're going to cultivate it and make it a hub for urban agriculture and education. We're going to turn this land into something we as a people need."

Haddock said those involved with Take Back the Tract, also known as Occupy the Farm, were concerned about plans to pave over the Gill Tract for a parking lot and a Whole Foods market. 

Community Development Director Jeff Bond, with the city of Albany, said the current agricultural land that's being occupied is not part of the project area where the . The Whole Foods would be sited between Monroe Street and Village Creek, which is essentially at the tree line that makes up the current Gill Tract's southern border. 

In UC's Master Plan (2004), said Bond, the agricultural land that's now being farmed by activists is zoned only for recreation or open space. The fields in , which are west of the senior housing and Whole Food project area, are guaranteed to be able to stay on their current location for at least 10 years if the current deal goes through.

But the issue is somewhat muddied by the fact that the original Gill Tract land, 104 acres, has been divided and developed over time, leaving farm occupation organizers concerned about the future of the remaining open space. 

"The fact that it's been sectioned off," said Anya Kamenskaya, "history shows they've been eating away at it incrementally. We don't feel convinced the university is committed to keeping it for agricultural use." 

Kamenskaya said, even though the Whole Foods is not planned to be developed on the farm land, the group hopes to shut down the development altogether. 

Haddock said there wasn't necessarily a consensus among Take Back the Tract participants about whether they were against Whole Foods in general, beyond the Albany site. 

But she noted that the company, though better than some, still has a number of unsustainable practices that concerned her, including sourcing non-local food, and offering packaged and plastic-wrapped food.

Haddock said plans for Occupy the Farm began in late 2011, and that vegetable starts had been donated to the group from as far away as San Jose. Carrots, kale, broccoli and corn are among the crops being planted. 

Activists took down a  on Sunday, though tall fava bean stalks belonging to researcher Miguel Altieri remained standing. 

"For now, we're leaving them," said Haddock. "We haven't decided long-term what to do with them."

She said she'd been stunned Sunday to see hundreds of people working the fields, many of whom had no prior farming experience. About 300 people attended Sunday's event, with about 60 who slept overnight, she said. 

The group could use donations, she said, of supplies, money and a motorcycle engine "to turn into a generator to charge cell phones," as well as volunteers to help with farming.

Haddock said the group had been speaking with numerous Albany residents who'd come over to check out the site or help farm, and that one of the group's goals is to get a better understanding of what city residents want to see at the site. 

Tuesday night, the related to the , and Haddock said there would likely be people there to speak on behalf of the occupation of the Gill Tract. 

For now, however, the focus is on the farm.

"For the next few days, we're expanding," she said. "Soon, all of this will be farm land."

Click the "Keep me posted" button below for an update when we publish future stories on this topic. Read more here. Learn about the proposed .

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.

micah franks April 24, 2012 at 12:42 AM
@Anna: Obviously UC disagrees with the protesters. Hopefully both sides can come to agreement, maintaining the current peace. About the conflict, while UC could be better run, like the entire state, it is still an institution of learning for present and future students. They aren't the enemy. Combat republicanism with your energy to promote change. Plus, where did the turkeys go?
Carol Carlisle April 24, 2012 at 12:47 AM
I also, live just near the Gill Tract and have been documenting in photos the animals and mustard field for a couple of years. I am extremely frustrated and disappointed that no one ask me or any of the neighbors what we want. Did they think of a wild space where the Earth and it's creatures could continue to live. Remember it was theirs first. They are who we need to "take it back for". Did they think that they really could grow enough food to really make a difference in people's life in Oakland? Maybe they know a loaves and fishes trick that I don't. Did they think to ask people of Albany if we could grow food in our gardens for food banks? Did they think about sources of water? It doesn't seem to me they thought this through. I believe the Occupiers need to be occupied by teachers, communicators, negotiators. Albany Moms We may be the 99% but the Earth is the 100% of all we have.
Mikey62 April 24, 2012 at 12:48 AM
They where foul interlopers, I guess
Robert Marshall April 24, 2012 at 01:26 AM
I've been thinking this afternoon about the fact this field, alng with Oceanview, are resting spots along the Canadian Geese Migration. Theybstop in this field to consume corn that is left from the UC planting. Just for aguments sake, the occupy plants are left to grow to fruition. Will the farmers wage war on the flocks that come in as they decide to sample their produce? Or will the flocks simply go elsewhere? Either option makes me sad. There is nothing like seeing a flock of 30 geese clearing your roof by 10 feet as they come in for a landing!!
Copper Hat April 24, 2012 at 02:06 AM
I don't quite get this. The land belongs to UC, and they can use (or not use) as they see fit. My garden is under-utilized, but that's my choice. I'm missing the big statement here. What's next, cultivating the Key Route median?
One Turkey April 24, 2012 at 02:13 AM
Where did the Turkeys go? I don't know of any other open space like the Gill Tract in the area. People now at the Gill Tract, who were apparently concerned that the University would act without adequate consideration and fair process, have arrogated to themselves authority to decide what is "best" and have deprived Albany of one of its natural resources, without giving others a chance to be heard. Shame on them for their arrogance.
Sharon Bonnifield April 24, 2012 at 02:22 AM
Turning the water off is shitty of UC.
dgies April 24, 2012 at 02:30 AM
Stealing research facilities from the university is shitty of protestors.
Frank Knowles April 24, 2012 at 03:02 AM
Anna, this is hardly a "peaceful resolution". The occupiers broke and entering, invaded the Gill Tract, appropriated the land, and then trampled a cherished urban wildlife habitat. And they trampled all over the collective voices of the people of Albany who have been engaged in a dialogue with the University and the city for over a decade now over the future of the Gill Tract. And referring to the occupation as a "resolution" at all reveals the arrogance and selfishness of it all. This is a unilaterally implemented "resolution" that has been imposed on the community by a small group of zealots.
Carol Carlisle April 24, 2012 at 03:13 AM
I've been down to camp two times today. They are mostly lovely young people with lovely ideas but unclear on what the big statement is. I really wanted to here what they wanted to say but they couldn't stay on topic or tolerate thoughts of decent.
albany citizen April 24, 2012 at 03:14 AM
How come they don't take over the Bulb? There would make a true statement if they did that. If they were able to clean that crap hole that would just be wonderful. It's something EBRPD and city does not want to deal with. But one thing is for sure as long as they camp out and crap in the field then there will be less focus on the dogs at the beach or if they are on or off a leash. :)
albany citizen April 24, 2012 at 03:18 AM
Great picture Tom! Occupy aerial photo: April 23, 2012, Albany, CA. Credit: Tom Osuna
lazy leeander April 24, 2012 at 03:25 AM
I wish they would take their skills, talent, energy and purpose to the poor struggling garden at Memorial Park, between the tennis courts and the Veterans' Building. Good start-up effort never really panned out in part, I think, because a vegetable garden under a Eucalyptus tree is a challenging combination. Turn that patch into food, and spread it around as far as you can! Now that's community service.
Kayko April 24, 2012 at 03:25 AM
I was at the meeting this evening and shared my concerns, and was heard (whatever that is worth). Yes, they were lovely, and yes they were there to "farm" and not to question the why of what they were doing. Couldn't stay to ask about the animals, but they encouraged people to stop by the info desk to ask questions. I still feel that it is single-agenda driven, but I'm willing to see how it goes in the medium/long term.
Joy Kekki April 24, 2012 at 03:34 AM
The eucalyptus leaves can be used as a flea repellent for people with pets. Place a few sprigs or branches under and around furniture for relief. Relevant or not, I could not resist leaving this tip; hope it helps someone.
Albany Voter April 24, 2012 at 03:35 AM
A farm would be cool. So will Whole Foods. The two are not mutually exclusive.
albany citizen April 24, 2012 at 04:06 AM
Just say No to Whole Food Market -Albany CA. Just get rid of the people at the tract and lets get back to normal
Dover April 24, 2012 at 04:10 AM
Pot smoking and clear, rational thought seldom go hand in hand.
Rona April 24, 2012 at 04:12 AM
To Carol and Robert: I thought about that as well (the animals). Two when stated above in the article: "..doesn't stand to benefit the people in our community..." I was like wait..whose community??? It made me wonder if all involved are Albany residents. If so, I understand the "Occupy" movement of this because of the talks over the years with the Gill tract. But if you got "non-Albany residents" up in there, then you are "NOT" representing our community. Don't fight FOR Albany if you are NOT an Albany resident. I feel this way because with the fight for keeping Golden Gate Fields, Golden Gate Fields and not what the UC wanted to build over there. I think us "Albany" folk can fight our own battles pretty well on our own:) But if you all are ALL from Albany up in there then okay..I can see your "Occupy" viewpoint. But still, you got wildlife that "Occupy" that area so be prepared for the backlash if you hinder them. I'm just saying..don't anger the animal lovers:( They can be lethal:P And I'm not being sarcastic or funny.
Dover April 24, 2012 at 04:15 AM
"How come they don't take over the Bulb?" There are no major traffic intersections at The Bulb, thus, no built-in audience, thus, no consistent attention to feed their neediness. The fact that they are not even ON the proposed Whole Foods site should tell us all something.
Peter Goodman April 24, 2012 at 04:25 AM
Like many others in Albany I am a veteran of the student protests in the 1960s. My take on the Gill Tract Occupation: 1. The tract is a stage, and the occupation is performance art. Any open space in the East Bay would have served as well, but this stage was strategically chosen for its proximity to commuters, Albany's assumed progressive sympathy, the opportunity to poke a finger in the eye of UC. 2. A stage is for drama, and this occupation is meant to provoke an emotional reaction. There may be some delusional planters who think they are actually going to get an urban garden, but the smart guys pulling the strings know that what this is really about is generating news and interest. 3. What kind of reaction? Well, that's always an unknown. You've got extremes on both sides who are more into mischief than message. The righties will call the occupiers interlopers and lazy hippies, while the lefties will hit back at the 1% and the corporate food poisoners. Most of us are somewhere in the middle, but in my 60s experience I have to say the message usually belongs to those who can out-demagogue the others, dragging the 'movement' along with them. ...
Peter Goodman April 24, 2012 at 04:26 AM
[continued] 4. What bothers me the most is that the city really did go through a lengthy process and unlike many other municipalities is getting quite a bit of benefit out of the planned development to the south. Others have mentioned the Little League fields, the agricultural research, the tax revenue sorely needed. Elected city councils and appointed committees have looked at all the issues; there have been many many public forums for everyone to express a point of view. The result is a good one, hard won, legal and negotiated. Suddenly other folks come in and tell us that our city process is a sham, that we are sell-outs, and they know better? I find that insulting to our entire community, the merits of the occupy cause notwithstanding. I think we do know better than others what is good for our city and, like they say, you can always vote the bums out (as if our city council is somehow less than progressive!). 5. We've seen these dramas in the past. Let's hope this one ends well and that at some point soon there will be a final curtain (and perhaps even a smattering of applause).
Robert Marshall April 24, 2012 at 04:28 AM
Frankly, I don't think the East Bay Regional Park District would put up with their presence if they tried. it's far easier to vilify UC for all the negative publicity they've created for themselves, than to bring negativity on themselves by occupying a park.
Ulan McKnight April 24, 2012 at 08:17 AM
I have spoken to 8 residents of the Village. All have expressed a commitment to getting the word out. A PDF explaining some of the issues was created last night and disseminated through online discussion groups Monday. I myself found out about this action only when my wife and I drove by on Sunday. Please understand that everyone I have talked to has expressed a deep desire to engage in conversation with all parties - especially Albany residents. If you want to learn more, just stop by and talk to folks. This is a learning experience for everyone.
lindy April 24, 2012 at 02:59 PM
Peter makes some excellent points. Occupy has not acknowledged the fact that they have the 'wrong' piece of land..that the development is happening to the south. I also agree that the geese will eat all of the tender morsels. Sanitary conditions cannot be maintained when folks are using the 'woods' for bathrooms. Most importantly, a community movement must actually include the community..the Village, and Albany residents..not people who come in with their own agenda (however wholesome it may seem). That was missed. Completely. The school is way too close to this demonstration, and drugs should not be used in this close proximity.
Julie April 24, 2012 at 03:11 PM
We have only the word of the protesters that the water has been turned off. Patch seems to have taken their word for it, without verifying. And you seem to have bought it, too.
Carol Carlisle April 24, 2012 at 06:05 PM
Not to mention the creek, part of the East Bay water shed, that runs though the woods that will become polluted. I photographed it yesterday. Might be interesting to document it's progress.
Albany Teacher April 24, 2012 at 07:34 PM
Would love to see an urban farm like Fairview Gardens in Goleta, CA in the Occupy part of the Gill Tract. http://www.fairviewgardens.org/ Would love to see a Monterrey Market type store in the Whole Foods part of the Gill Tract. Affordable organic produce and a decent sized market for the area.
Robert Marshall April 24, 2012 at 09:59 PM
...Activists took down a huge swath of mustard on Sunday, though tall fava bean stalks belonging to researcher Miguel Altieri remained standing. "For now, we're leaving them," said Haddock. "We haven't decided long-term what to do with them." What a terribly arrogant statement. They recognize that Miguel Altieri is using the land for the same purpose they are proponents of (farming), but Haddock says THEY will decide long-term whether it stays, or not.
John Kindle April 27, 2012 at 06:07 AM
One time I saw a tom turkey single handily drive off a herd of deer. To bad they can't do the same to the squatters. i guess we need to contact UCPD: Non-Emergency (510) 642-6760 police@berkeley.edu Mitchell J. Celaya III, Chief of Police (510) 642-1133 mjc@berkeley.edu Jennifer Woods, Executive Assistant (510) 643-7500 jwoods@berkeley.edu


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