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Open Letter: Let Sustainability Committee Study Gill Tract Before Further Action

Albany Patch welcomes guest columns and letters to the editor. See all the Gill Tract stories on Albany Patch at http://patch.com/bvbHo. Click the "Keep me posted" button below for updates about this story.

[Editor's Note: James Mink shared this letter to the City Council related to . Albany Patch welcomes guest columns and letters to the editor. Email albany@patch.com with your contribution.]

Dear Council members,

Because I will be unable to attend the City Council meeting next Monday, May 21 due to a prior commitment, I wanted to write to you with my thoughts regarding , which is listed as Item No. 8-1 on the . Resolution No. 2012-34 would have the Council urge the University “to establish a space on the where the Albany schools and community can participate in gardening education and/or farming.” While this language seems unobjectionable on its face, by committing the City in advance to one possible outcome out of many, it works at cross-purposes with the City’s Climate Action Plan and the work of the . The conflict can be seen by looking at the next item on the Agenda.

is a staff recommendation to direct the City’s Sustainability Committee to “evaluate potential growing sites within the City, including the Gill Tract, for additional community gardens and urban agricultural activities[.]” This is an important idea, and something that is being done in nearby communities. See, for example, Oakland’s survey of its potential urban agricultural land (available here). Folks from the University helped to prepare that report, and might provide assistance in putting together something similar for us. Before voting on a resolution such as No. 2012-34, and adopting one option as Albany’s “preferred” option for the Gill Tract, it would make sense to let the Sustainability Committee do its job, with a fairly tight turnaround time, and see what the Committee recommends. 

Letting the Sustainability Committee evaluate the Gill Tract, along with other potential growing sites, would also help to bring the greater Albany community back into the discussion on urban farming and food issues in Albany. Many participants in the “Occupy the Farm” action have said they felt stymied by earlier discussions of the Gill Tract; many other Albany residents have said since that they felt disenfranchised by the occupation, since they were not consulted or informed before the action took place. Now that the issue has been raised, the community at large should have the opportunity to make informed choices about the Gill Tract and other sites. Prioritizing and accelerating the evaluation of all sites through the Sustainability Committee would help the entire community to come up with a shared vision for what we want to see, both at the Gill Tract and in Albany more generally. Like other successful urban agriculture programs, ours should spring from and be guided by the community, based on a review of all of our options.  Committing the City in advance to one particular outcome seems likely to hamper that process.

It makes sense for us to press forward with our work on the , and to direct the Sustainability Committee to work toward preparing something like what Oakland has done. If the Gill Tract requires special, separate consideration, then perhaps the subcommittee discussed in Agenda Item No. 8-3 makes sense. In either event, the Council should consider tabling discussion of Resolution No. 2012-34 until the Sustainability Committee issues the report called for in Agenda Item No. 8-2.

Thanks for your time and your commitment to working for Albany.  Best regards,

James Mink
Albany, CA 

Click the "Keep me posted" button below for updates about this story. See all our Occupy the Farm-related coverage here.

Preston Jordan May 18, 2012 at 05:48 PM
I agree with the author, however the Parks and Recreation Commission should be the lead rather than the Sustainability Committee, in accord with Albany's "Climate Action Plan - Implementation Plan" (see FA 3.1 on page 10 of http://www.albanyca.org/Modules/ShowDocument.aspx?documentid=12474). The Parks and Recreation Commission also has jurisdiction over community gardens and urban agriculture through Albany's "Parks, Recreation and Open Space Master Plan," available at http://www.albanyca.org/index.aspx?page=744. The Sustainability Committee is pursuing reduction of greenhouse pollution from building energy consumption and transportation, which are the measures that actually matter to meeting Albany's greenhouse pollution reduction goal. Assigning it urban agriculture would be a distraction. This will probably strike some as sacrireligious, which goes to the problem. Many urban agriculture advocates fervently believe it significantly reduces greenhouse pollution. This belief does not withstand analysis. For instance the Union of Concerned Scientists, on page 153 of its just released book "Cooler Smarter: Practical Steps for Low-Carbon Living," states of local food "other strategies are more effective in reducing global warming emissions from your diet. (pg. 153)" It recommends a number of such strategies. It will be ironic if Albany accepts the science of climate change, but denies the science of how to most effectively reduce it.
Allan Maris May 19, 2012 at 03:13 PM
About 10 years ago the City of Albany conducted a public hearing to discuss the use of Gill Tract which is private property owned by The University of California, a public university. Land was allocated for potential public use including use for urban gardens, sports and recreation. Please respect the University's right to determine use of its property. They have a mission to educate the public and provide research to improve our quality of life. "Occupy" and Councilwoman, Wile, please respect the University's mission and the Albany public hearing process
Allan Maris May 19, 2012 at 03:22 PM
Allan Maris, member of the Albany Board of Education, speaking for myself.
Michael Barnes May 19, 2012 at 03:31 PM
Kudos to both James Mink and Preston Jordan! Thanks for this clear-headed analysis. I strongly urge concerned Albany residents to come to Monday night's city council meeting to make their voices heard. I am concerned that the proposed resolution is merely a distraction from implementing our Climate Action Plan. UC has indicated, yet again, a willingness to work with the city, so the resolution seems superfluous at best : http://newscenter.berkeley.edu/2012/05/18/gill-tract-update/ Although I hesitate to make this analogy, I'll plunge in anyway: regardless of where you stand on the Israeli/Palestinian conflict, it seems to be that the extremists on both sides always manage to hijack the conflict, while the moderates are sidelined. I don't want to see that happen here in Albany. I think the moderates in Albany, who favor both urban agriculture and who respect UC researchers' rights to the Gill Tract, need to take charge. Folks, please come to the city council meeting and be prepared to speak to reinforce the points James Mink and Preston Jordan have made. When you get to the mic, clearly state your name and address. Too many times in the past city council members have neglected good old-fashioned problem solving in favor of grandstanding about the topic du jour. For that reason, I'm asking you not support the proposed resolution, but instead to support plan to get Parks and Rec moving on implementing the Climate Action Plan.
Ellen Hershey May 21, 2012 at 03:07 PM
Agree strongly with points made by James Mink, Preston Jordan, Allan Maris. Albany has a strong Climate Action Plan in place and needs to continue making progress on it. Urban gardening is a small part of that plan. As Preston points out, and the City's Climate Action Plan notes, urban gardening is not a powerful strategy for reducing global warming emissions. As many Patch commenters have noted, Albany is not a food desert where fresh produce is unavailable. Yet, many Albany residents, including me, highly value being able to grow some of our own vegetables and fruit. Given that context, one important step the City needs to take is to have a policy discussion to further define the purposes and goals of the City's urban gardening initiative. Is it to ensure that more Albany residents have a chance to have their own garden plots? To produce vegetables for low-income Albany residents? To produce vegetables for residents of other communities? Whatever goals are decided on, there are likely many creative opportunities to make more gardening space available in Albany, apart from whatever use the University of California may decide on for the Gill Tract.

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