Supporters of Sunday's Gill Tract occupation, composed of mostly Albany residents, attended a Tuesday night to share their hopes and dreams about the pop-up urban farm, on illegally seized land, that's been underway since Earth Day.
Activists took over the farmland—which is owned by the University of California and has been —in a well-coordinated action that had been in the works for months.
Nearly a dozen Occupy the Farm advocates spoke during the public comment session, for items not on the agenda, during the April 24 meeting.
Until Tuesday, the meeting had been slated to include a discussion about a Whole Foods and senior housing project planned for . But the university decided to pull the item from the agenda Tuesday afternoon, resulting from the occupation.
A group of Occupy the Farm supporters had planned to march to City Hall for the meeting. Following the cancellation announcement, a smaller contingent came to the meeting to share their views.
Prior to the meeting, Occupy the Farm organizer Effie Rawlings, a graduate of UC Berkeley, said the activists were disappointed that the university removed the Whole Foods project from the agenda.
"What kind of accountability is that?" she said. "They're trying to deescalate the situation to take pressure off themselves, as the city is starting to see what's happening."
In her remarks to the commission, Rawlings took a moment to explain the intent of Sunday's occupation: "It's not a tent city, it's not a party, it's not a squat. We're there as statement to set it up as a farm."
She also invited Albany residents to at 1 p.m. for "an open day for families" to learn about the group's activities.
After Rawlings, numerous Albany residents told the commission they would like to see the Gill Tract kept as open space for local food production.
Others, from Albany and beyond, said they'd been working for years to come up with a proposal for an urban garden on the Gill Tract.
Albany resident Eric Larsen told the commission that he'd "all but written off the progressive and wonderful dream about the garden" until he came upon the occupation Sunday.
"Everyone has been welcomed and invited in to help build a farm," as well as "a resilient community," for Albany, he said. He encouraged commissioners to visit the Gill Tract to see what the activists were creating.
Other Albany residents, including Jackie Hermes-Fletcher, told the commission it wasn't too late to shut down the Whole Foods and senior housing project altogether.
"You still have the power to deny the development agreement," she said. "How do you feel about having a beautiful urban farm there? All those occupiers are incredible. Come on down."
"I do hope that you will get on board and take a proactive stance in securing the future," added Mara Duncan, who said she'd been working for 12 years on the Gill Tract issue. "I too want to believe it's not too late."
The only person to speak against the Gill Tract occupation was Albany resident John Kindle, who said he was concerned about the possibility of the spread of disease between chickens and turkeys on the site.
Following their remarks, commission Chairman Leo Panian urged the activists to learn more about the project's "long history." He pointed them toward the city website and encouraged them to reach out to city staff for more information.
A VISIT FROM A UNIVERSITY REP
It was their first direct meeting with university reps since the Sunday occupation.
At about 7:15 p.m., Ashoka Finley, 24, of Richmond took several minutes away from a group planting a permaculture garden with apple trees, directly across from to describe the meeting.
Finley said Gilless told activists he was concerned about how the occupation would affect at the Gill Tract.
"Our position is that we don't really need any more corn research," said Finley, noting that corn is part of a vast monoculture that doesn't bode well for a sustainable future.
According to Finley, Gilless made it clear that he did not have the power to make any decisions about the university's response, but that he could relate information back to UC Berkeley officials.
Finley said the organizers and farmers told Gilless that their main priorities were to for irrigation, and to "really engage in dialogue."
(Albany Patch has not been able to reach Gilless for comment this morning.)
Over at City Hall, Effie Rawlings noted some frustration by the occupiers with the university's response thus far.
On Monday, she said, the university said it would send a representative to speak with the group, and instead turned off the water to the fields. Tuesday, she said, occupiers were kept waiting all day to speak with Gilless.
Ultimately she too said getting the water back on was the No. 1 consideration.
"And hopefully it will rain tomorrow," she said.
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