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Column: 2012 UC Gill Tract and University Village FAQ (Updated)

Albany Patch welcomes guest columns and letters to the editor via albany@patch.com. Click "Keep me posted" below for email updates related to future stories about the Gill Tract.

On May 15, James Mink PATCH’ed about the frustration of trying—across thousands of comments on multiple threads—"." To help address that need, below is an FAQ to enable PATCH’ers to find substantiated facts easily. This updated FAQ adds information from PATCH’ers and UC archives; thanks to all who asked questions or added information. (.) Much of the cited information is on the City of Albany’s website. Feedback and suggestions to the FAQ are welcome: The goals are accuracy and objectivity. 

1) What and where is the Gill Tract? Per the 2004 UC Village Master Plan, land currently referred to as the Gill Tract is about 15 acres in the northeast corner of UC Berkeley property in Albany. It’s the fenced area bounded by Buchanan/Marin to the north, San Pablo Avenue to the east, Jackson Street to the west, and fencing north of Monroe (and south of Village Creek) to the south. 

2) Who owns the Gill Tract? The Regents of University of California purchased it as part of a 104-acre parcel in February 1928 from the Gill family for $450,000.

3) Is the Gill Tract accessible to the public? No. It is fenced, locked and posted “No Trespassing” to secure research projects, and UC structures and property.

4) How much of the Gill Tract is devoted each year to crops?  About six to seven acres located north of Village Creek are planted in various research crops. Remaining Gill Tract land is tree stands, roads, Village Creek, buildings or former building sites (several buildings and trees have been removed within the last few years).

5) What about rest of the 104-acre original parcel purchased in 1928?  Some of the remaining 90+ acres are UC Village housing and related service buildings for faculty and graduate students and their families. Also currently on the original parcel are City of Albany Civic Center including the Police and Fire Departments, Ocean View School, Ocean View park, community gardens (UC and City of Albany), Albany Unified School District offices, and the USDA facility on Buchanan. During WW II, the US government rented much of the parcel to construct housing for shipyard workers.

6) Is there any requirement for how the Gill Tract may or may not be used? Under the state constitution, the University of California regents have sole authority over use of UC property when the uses are UC-mission related (including housing, labs, parking lots, etc). There is no indication of any use restriction as part of the 1928 purchase—records show UC purchased the Gill Tract for recreational use. In 1939 UC decided to sell another property, the 18-acre Schmitt Tract in Berkeley, which was used for agricultural purposes and for which the state had appropriated $51,080 (part of the total land price) in 1923 for agriculture purposes. UC’s “College of Agriculture” used some land on the Schmitt Tract, and the plan was to relocate the College of Agriculture to the Gill Tract. A legal opinion in 1939 indicated that, at minimum, $51,080 from the sale of the Schmitt Tract “should be definitely allocated to purposes of the College of Agriculture,” in light of the 1923 state appropriation.

7) How is the Gill Tract used now? The Gill Tract is an open air laboratory for UC’s College of Natural Resources, with conducted by UC academics. Research is funded by government grants. During some months “cover” crops are grown to prepare the soil for research seasons.

8) Does the research involve genetically modified crops or organisms? No, per May 18, 2012.

9) Is there any ? Nothing in excess of “naturally occurring background” levels which allows for unrestricted use of the site, as of Nov. 10, 2009.

10) What’s the difference between a farm and a garden? Scale. Gardens are typically smaller than a backyard. Farms are bigger. Both may grow edibles.

11) What happened with “Gill Tract Design Team” efforts in 2008? "The efforts of the Design Team were to investigate possible options for this area when and if the College of Natural Resources were to move to another location."(The College of Natural Resources is still using the Gill Tract.) Other issues pending from the last 2008 session include finding funding sources, creating a business plan, etc.

12) What does UC say about a farm/community garden on the Gill Tract? In a May 18, 2012, letter UC’s Dean Gilless of the College of Natural Resources of the Gill Tract for urban agriculture.  

13) Where is the site of the proposed Whole Foods and Senior Housing project? Most of this proposed development is south of the Gill Tract. It fronts on San Pablo Avenue, bordered by Codornices Creek (Berkeley border) to the south, and Village Creek to the north, straddling Monroe Street. A northern portion of the proposed development is on an eastern piece of the Gill Tract south of Village Creek, where buildings stood for many years.

14) Does the EIR for the proposed development area include the Gill Tract? The Draft EIR says “The portion of the northern (development) parcel within the Gill Tract includes a former residence (Gill House) that has been used for office space, research buildings and greenhouses, and several trailers associated with the agricultural research facilities.” The Draft as well as Final EIR are considered parts of the entire EIR.  

15) How is the proposed Whole Foods/Senior Housing site zoned? The first hundred feet west from San Pablo Avenue is zoned SPC (San Pablo Commercial). The area further west is zoned R-2 Medium Density Housing.  Much of this land was covered with barracks-type housing or other buildings for decades, until about four years ago. 

16) How can UC put a Whole Foods and commercial senior housing on its property? UC must go through city of Albany project review processes, because the grocery store, other retail, and commercial senior housing are not UC mission-related. This public process has been underway for nearly five years; the proposal has changed dramatically due to public feedback. For instance, the grocery store and senior housing switched places, and the senior housing height dropped. and directed staff and the city’s Planning & Zoning Commission to work out planning documents including a between the city and UC, one of several steps that remain to be completed before the project can be approved. 

17) What is UC’s plan for the Gill Tract? The 2004 Plan (PDF above) is the current planning document. One change affecting the Gill Tract since 2004 is that the Children’s Center has moved off UC land to Vista School (the Children’s Center is an AUSD program housed from 1943 through 2009 in the Village). Anther change is the increased probability that UC’s agricultural research remains on the Gill Tract, per . 

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.

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