Column: 'Don’t Let Them Make a Mockery of the Democratic Process'

Albany Patch welcomes guest columns and letters to the editor. Email albany@patch.com for details. Francesco Papalia made these remarks Monday to the Albany City Council about the Gill Tract occupation by Occupy the Farm.

I have been an enthusiastic home vegetable gardener here in Albany since 1987.

In the last few years I have planted apricot, fig, persimmon, pomegranate and mandarin orange trees. Unfortunately, my strawberry patch seems mostly to be nourishing the local squirrel.

My vegetable garden includes kale, spinach, arugula, sugar snap peas, cucumbers and three kinds of tomatoes.

My herb garden has parsley, rosemary, oregano, thyme and six kinds of basil.

Today I picked up a five-gallon bucket of coffee grounds from Peet’s Coffee to use as a good nitrogen source for my compost bin.

I have done all this on my small 3,300-square-foot house lot in Albany without the help of the Farm Alliance or the University of California.

For those of us here in Albany who have diligently followed this four-year process with the university for the development of a sorely needed commercial development that includes a Whole Foods store and 172 units of assisted living senior housing, and participated in the open democratic and transparent dialogue among the citizens of Albany, the Planning Commission and the City Council and staff, this most recent development is an insult to our sense of fairness.

We sat through sometimes tedious meetings to speak and voice our support for or against the project, or some aspects of the project.

After four years .

Today, a very small group, that has not been part of the process, has decided just to take what they want, for the use that they want.

Researchers, Little Leaguers, cyclists, seniors, merchants, University of California planners. Their needs were ignored.

They make up their own rules about due process and democracy. Tonight they have even declared themselves exempt from all rules and ask you to support them and .

They about the present and the past.

Their tactics and objectives flow from self-serving rules and misinformation.

This is a veritable land grab by the very few.

You, the City Council, were elected to serve us, not them. And to honor the democratic process. Please don’t let them make a mockery of the democratic process with this most undemocratic takeover that imposes the will of the few over the will of the many.

Francesco Papalia
Albany, CA 

D Cardozo May 09, 2012 at 07:12 PM
Francesco made his case clearly at the City Council meeting on Monday, along with two others in opposition to the farmers. He's proud of his garden, and the principle of private property is important to him, as a real estate agent and as a citizen. He was surrounded Monday night by the over a dozen people who came to the City Council to show their support for the farm: homeowners, renters, teachers, grandmothers, children, and councilmember Joanne Wile. Tactics aside, the potential benefits of opening up this land as a public farm are too great for us to ignore. I had a great conversation with Francesco, and got some good gardening tips from him. We talked about the use of messaging and playing up facts while hiding others, as it is used by both UC and the farmers: that's how a media war works, after all. He's not a bad guy, but he has 3300 square feet to do with as he likes. I don't have that,and i don't even want it. I want local, public farmland that I can share with my neighbors. And I can't trust the UC to run it. It's hard to see a democratic process where one side has an army of lawyers, and the other just a handful.
Sara May 09, 2012 at 07:48 PM
I live in the village, 20 yards from the Tract, and although I respect the strong desires for that land, I am dismayed by the disrespect for both the process that has been unfolding (and isn't finished!) and for the surrounding community. Yes, many people in Albany support the occupation, but the struggle of democracy is that a vocal minority doesn't always get to win. I had hoped that the occupiers would take to heart our requests for an open process and open communication, but that has not happened. If you can't spend hours at the farm every day, you don't have a seat at their table. And now they're negotiating - in secret - with UC for a specific outcome for the land, one with no assurances of community voice, exactly what many community members (including myself) asked them not to do. For starters, there has never been consensus or even majority approval that farming is the most desirable use for the tract. What about open space for kids? If the farm needs to distribute food, you can't have kids running around there. What about recreation space for the school? Ocean View's outdoor facilities are bleak compared to Berkeley's. Maybe the community will decide a farm is what they want. My point is, who will decide this? The occupiers have decided it will be a farm. Period. That's not a process, that's a unilateral decision. And the failure of occupiers to speak accurately and seriously about the fate of the land and the status of the process is disappointing.
Ellen Hershey May 09, 2012 at 08:26 PM
Sara, I entirely agree with your point. As Francesco's statement says, the City of Albany has convened multiple open meetings over the past four years to allow community members to express their views on the future of the Gill Tract and the parcel immediately to the south where the Whole Foods store and senior housing will be built. This has been a vibrant democratic process under the leadership we elected. The City has negotiated with UC on behalf of its citizens to arrive at agreements about the use of this land. Not everybody got what they wanted. But, many community members wanted Whole Foods, senior housing, ball fields, recreational space, a community garden, etc. And those uses fit UC's interest in expanding University Village and providing amenities for its residents, who are Albany residents too. Now come the Occupiers, who have a different idea about how that land should be used, and they don't like the outcome of the democratic process that has already arrived at some decisions. So, they have seized the land by force and are now attempting to extort concessions from the University. They show no respect whatsoever for the democratic process in Albany, I guess because it didn't produce the result they wanted. In order to have a vote in the Occupiers' process, a person would have to join them in committing criminal trespass. Kind of like joining a criminal gang.
KJ May 09, 2012 at 09:35 PM
If you want local farmland, don't live in a city. It's called a trade-off. Look it up.
Emilie Raguso May 09, 2012 at 09:37 PM
As an aside -- I did live tweet from the meeting and was / am planning to write up the comments. It's just been non-stop so I haven't gotten to do it, but there was about an hour of comments from folks who mostly identified themselves as Albany residents, who said they were in support of the Gill Tract activities.
Francesco Papalia May 09, 2012 at 10:34 PM
Daniel,The issue is not private property rights but public land ownership and how its use is decided and what uses are allowed. For decades this issue has been debated in public forums and decisons made democratically here in Albany about the waterfront and other public lands. One important complication is this land is owned by the State and managed by UC. They are exempt from Albany control to a great extent but the last four years has shown a sincere effort to work with the City an obtain approvals on our terms. Please remember that the Regents and UC also have an obligation to use its resources and lands for the benefit of all of California. The are accountable for their actions but it seems to me that the occupy farmers do not want to held accountable for their actions. I am all for community gardens like Emerville has: http://www.ci.emeryville.ca.us/index.aspx?NID=738. I challenge you to take your ideas, passion and energy to the Albany Sustainibliity Committee and Parks and Recreation Committee and petition the City through the proper channels. If you do this you may suceed or fail. I won't be easy but it will be morally and intellectualy honest and the satisfaction will be well earned
Joy Kekki May 09, 2012 at 11:25 PM
Oh, for Pete's sake! Arrest them. They are trespassing; they are breaking the law; they must leave but, first, they must pay. "California Penal Code 602 PC (and its related sections) penalize over 30 acts that constitute criminal trespassing. The most common acts that California trespassing laws prohibit are: . entering someone else’s property with the intent to damage that property,. . entering someone else’s property with the intent to interfere with or obstruct the business activities conducted thereon, . entering and "occupying" another’s property without permission, and refusing to leave private property after you’ve been asked to do so. California trespassing laws are unique in that they can be filed as infractions, misdemeanors, or felonies. Although all three are possible, criminal trespass is most frequently prosecuted as a misdemeanor. Misdemeanor Penal Code 602 violations subject you to up to six months in a county jail and a maximum $1,000 fine." http://www.shouselaw.com/trespass.html Duh.
Dee May 10, 2012 at 12:42 AM
Again, Yes! Again +++++++++++++++++++++++1
Dee May 10, 2012 at 12:44 AM
Bravo, Francesco! Well said!
Ellen Hershey May 10, 2012 at 06:18 AM
Daniel and Francesco, see the City of Albany's new Climate Action Plan, approved in April 2012, Section F-3, on Urban Agriculture. It establishes as City policy an objective of developing more community gardens and a community orchard. http://www.albanyca.org/index.aspx?page=18&recordid=1641&returnURL=%2findex.aspx So, it looks like there should be plenty of opportunity for Daniel to work with the Albany community to develop more community gardens in our little city, if he wants to. You do know that the City already runs a community garden at Ocean View Park, for residents who don't have garden space of their own. But it does have a waiting list.
Emilie Raguso May 10, 2012 at 07:33 AM
@Kevin, there may be a way to verify where they live, but generally the way city meetings work is just that people state their city of residence. I've seen the Occupy folks working hard to built alliances with people in the community who agree with their activities... and personally don't have any reason to doubt the people who said they live here. Many of them have referred in other conversations to having kids in (specific) local schools, or living on a certain street for a certain number of years... I don't know -- it struck me as legitimate. Other people said they live in Berkeley or other places; people seemed to be expressing themselves honestly. That was just my impression.
a May 10, 2012 at 08:09 AM
Well stated, Francesco! Thanks for the clear-headed post. As my five-year-old said when we were discussing the situation -- just because I want someone else's toy doesn't mean I can grab it. As we walked by the Tract today, an Occupier threw his cigarette butt into the street. I know that's just the action of one person, but it summed it up to me -- such a disregard for our community.
Dover May 10, 2012 at 02:54 PM
"Many of them have referred in other conversations to having kids in (specific) local schools" Emilie, you, of all people, should know that this does not necessarily mean they are residents of Albany.
Tatter Salad May 10, 2012 at 05:49 PM
OK: so who is going to print the T-shirts: " I SPEAK FOR THE CORN, not the tomatoes." But the issue has nothing to do with tomatoes, it has to do with insulting the Big-U. Boalt Hall ,Dr.'s Romm and Alteri aside, the University of California's goal is to facilitate the best and the brightest, and perform leading edge research to brighten all of our futures... (OK, just in theory perhaps). The Big-U has ALWAYS been open to input and dialogue (unless you're an undergrad in that department LOL)... If in our children's eyes, the Big-U is seen as part of the 'evil empire,' then we all lose. You can locate and walk into most any department, and get an expert opinion on ANYTHING... but that access is being diminished by the Campus's fear of trespass and criminal behavior. . .. now they need barb-wire and guards on experimental corn fields! The Ruckus' goal is to create distrust in U.S. corporations and Institutions, and the science-supported facts they create. (U.S. corporations have sunk their own boat - or moved out - ...so there is a BIG push to sink the Universities) . One of my neighbors brought her children to a week-end farm 'show and tell' at the tract last week-end; she and her kids had a great time. BUT, she had NO IDEA at that time that she was trespassing; Now she feels she and her children were 'used'' as 'cutesy photos' were taken of her family. She lent support and didn't know it. Thank you Francesco for sharing your angst.
Dave Davis McDavid May 10, 2012 at 06:19 PM
You know what makes a mockery of the Democratic process? The giant piles of lobbying money and staff that the UC regents have available to use to get whatever they want. You know what else makes a mockery of the democratic process? The fact that the only municipal government with a real say in what happens on the Gill tract is the government of Albany. Albany is better off that many nearby communities. Albany's mostly white and asian population does not reflect the makeup of the surrounding communities. A regional resource like the Gill Tract should not have it's fortunes decided by the whims of a small privileged town that's less than 2 square miles in area.
Dave Davis McDavid May 10, 2012 at 06:46 PM
Kevin, if that's the case, we're even. The mechanics of real property rights in America have become so lopsided in favor of the privileged few that poor people have good reason to challenge the status quo via civil disobedience.
Dave Davis McDavid May 10, 2012 at 09:23 PM
Mr. Papilia is white, male, a baby boomer, a homeowner and a realtor. It's easy to grow your own garden when you grew up in an era where college was cheap, income inequality was at an all time low, and you're of the most privileged class of people in America: white men. It's also really transparent that Mr. Papilia's concerns have a lot more to do with increasing his own business as a Realtor in Albany. Add a yuppie grocery store, jack up property values. Papilia's motive is profit. When he ran for Albany City Council, his focus was on development.
SY May 10, 2012 at 09:27 PM
Actually, it would be a boon to Albany to have another full-service grocery store, one that emphasizes organics and sustainably-produced food (in contrast to Safeway, which certainly plays a valuable role in the community, as well). What's clear is that the trespassers' motive is not to improve the community, but to impose by force their narrow views on land-use and race.
SY May 10, 2012 at 09:32 PM
College was cheap because your parents' parents voted for policies that placed a high importance on public investment and development, especially in the education field. The current crop of voters, occupiers, and what have you seem more focused on "me-first" policies and behavior at the expense of the community. The trespassers' polarizing actions directly contradict the goals of a society built on fairness and democracy, and equal access to educational opportunities. Occupy has succeeded in alienating large portions of the electorate that could have been natural allies who support similar ideas about a fair and just society, but disagree vehemently with occupiers' means of achieving these goals.
Dave Davis McDavid May 10, 2012 at 09:43 PM
There is a Whole Foods nearby in Berkeley. There are also multiple underused strip mall lots in Albany and Alameda. The farmers motive is to farm. The people who want them gone have profit and property values as their core interest. The farm is a beautiful and pristine place. Having an organized farming initiative there will attract positive minded people.
Robin Onaka May 10, 2012 at 09:46 PM
Where did you get that "Albany's mostly White and Asian population does not reflect the makeup of the surrounding communities?" There are many Asians (I'm one of them) living in Berkeley, Oakland, Richmond, El Cerrito, Vallejo; I could go on and on.
Emma Rosen May 10, 2012 at 11:24 PM
It sounds like you are clarifying that the occupy the farm project is for the surrounding community with the exception of the community surrounding it (Albany)? If that is true then there will be a lot of transportation of food and people issues getting to and from the farm. Do the occupiers have a plan for that or is it for UC and Albany to figure out? (full disclosure, I am a home owner and I have a vegetable garden in my yard. I plan to give away lemons at a future Tuesday evening produce swap - not a political statement, just what my garden has right now.)
Dover May 10, 2012 at 11:29 PM
"The farm is a beautiful and pristine place." Sure it is! Just ignore the piles of dog poop.
Lizz Bronson May 11, 2012 at 07:59 AM
I'm really loving the discussion that has been prompted by the gill tract occupation. I also really love Papalia's(and forum) comments and his premise about his hopes that the occupiers don't disrespect the process that cities go through to arrive at their decisions. I may disagree with the tactics of the occupation, and I understand people's concerns about democratic integrity issues, fundamentally I see a disconnect. I totally get the main point of the occupiers--they are basically saying just preserve the open space. Somehow I see that point getting lost. Yes, there has been discussion about developing a whole foods and senior housing, and many other things. But I do think that somewhere there has to be a bridge, an invitation to a larger forum about the larger questions this occupation quagmire really raises: Maybe we might want to examine our decision making processes as a city. To what degree does the public participate? How can public participation be increased? How does development affect Albany's ecosystem(esp. at Marin&SP)? There are a ton of other questions. I think something gets lost when it comes down to a "them vs. us" mentality, or a "that is outside of the decision making model" type of discussion. I think that for us to move forward, what really must happen is now the occupiers and the city of albany plus the university can convene a forum about new ways of looking at public process and decision making.
Lizz Bronson May 11, 2012 at 08:01 AM
At the same time, if the occupiers are trespassing then that is that, it is pretty clear. At the same time, offer another forum for active civic engagement where there can be a dialogue where these issues can be addressed.
Kirsten Schwartz May 11, 2012 at 02:21 PM
Geez, sorry, what an idiot: Francesco. I am embarrassed! My apologies.
Kirsten Schwartz May 11, 2012 at 02:30 PM
Lizz, I was too lazy to go to all the meetings between Albany and UC about the Gill Tract, but I knew they were happening, and I knew I could go. Did you? I see nothing in either comment saying that you did. I think your desire to "examine our decision making processes as a city" might be met by going to such meetings, as well as answers to your other questions--or you could bring them up there. (I have recently been to a couple small City administration meetings for just my block, and it takes some commitment. I honor the residents of Albany who did that for the Gill Tract, and deplore the Occupiers for overriding the result of that process.)
Peggy McQuaid May 11, 2012 at 02:34 PM
Lizz, can you please suggest alternatives for legal civic engagement. In the digital age where one can be alerted to public meetings by email, meetings are both televised and live streamed with replays available 24/7 for one's convenience. Public workshops on important decisions are held, after public notice, outside of specific meeting times resulting in a more informal discussion. Albany Patch, tweets, and facebook, while not official or legal notifying places, should not be ignored as sources of information for the public on important issues. Please clarify your suggestion to create a new forum for decision making.
Francesco Papalia May 11, 2012 at 04:36 PM
Thank you DDMcD for so clearly showing your biases by reducing me to a stereotype. The only thing you did not mention is my ethnicity (Italian), although you did not even bother to spell my name correctly which is a sign of disrespect I have had to live with my whole life. I will ask you now to declare your race, sex, ethnicity, age, job description and city of residence. This “privileged” home owner has lived in a 788sq.ft. house in Albany for over two decades. I suspect that DDMcD is not your real name so I challenge you to put that in print too. When I go to the Albany Farmer’s Market and spend my money to support the food merchants, I hope they make a profit so that they can continue to come and provide us delicious food while covering the costs of owning their farm
Randell May 13, 2012 at 05:34 AM
Mr. Dave Davis McDavid: Francesco's column is clearly about the Gill Tract in Albany. Please submit a separate column if you need to enlighten us about the type of people you would prefer to be allowed to speak.


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