ALBANY -- Activist group Occupy the Farm has announced plans to hold a demonstration on Saturday on the land known as the Gill Tract to protest the University of California's development plans on nearby property. The protesters previously occupied the land starting last April until they were removed by university police in May.
The organization's Facebook page asks for people to bring tools to plant crops. It also announces another action to save the Esperanza Gardens in San Francisco on Sunday, so it appears no long-term Albany occupation is planned.
"On Saturday, we're going to go back and attempt to start another farm," said Lesley Haddock, a UC Berkeley student. "As of now, we plan on sleeping there for one night and then let it develop organically."
While the protesters' position hasn't changed, neither has the university's.
"Our position is the same as it was last year," said Dan Mogulof, UC Berkeley executive director of Public Affairs. "We'll do what's necessary to protect our property rights."
In a letter this week to nearby residents, the university said they should "be prepared for potential traffic obstructions in that area should the illegal activities proceed." The letter also said the university "will not allow a permanent encampment on our property."
Occupy the Farm's planned action is a response to revised plans for the University Village development on nearby land bordering San Pablo Avenue at Monroe Street.
Development for that land has been in the works for years, and last July, the Albany City Council approved several resolutions, including a development agreement with the university. However, two lawsuits and a referendum led Whole Foods Market, which was to be the anchor tenant, to pull out of the deal. The council later rescinded the development agreement.
Last month, the university announced that Sprouts Farmers Market, a chain with 150 stores in eight states, will assume the role of anchor tenant in a much smaller grocery store. Other adjustments were made in the plans, which also includes assisted living housing. The Planning and Zoning Commission began the process of considering the new plans at Wednesday's meeting.
The development is planned for an area adjacent to the land taken over by Occupy the Farm last year. While the university uses the Gill Tract for agricultural research and has promised to preserve it for agricultural use, Occupy the Farm would like to see the entire property preserved for urban farming.
"Our message has been and continues to be that the whole 15 acres should be one piece of land, and we should be working to remediate soil that has been damaged," Haddock said. "We want to see it as one real crucial piece in a move toward food sovereignty. There are a lot of community gardens, and that's great, but having one big farm or several big farms in the area would go a long way toward creating a reliable local alternative to the food system."
Mogulof responded that "the development plans for that area were born of a collaborative process of over seven years. That is land that until recently has had World War II barracks and hasn't been used for farming in years."