Protesters continue occupation of UC-owned land

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ALBANY, Calif. — Protesters continued occupying and farming a UC-owned plot of land in Albany Monday and said they plan on staying as long as they can.

After arriving Sunday and pitching a few tents, about 40 protesters remained Monday at the Gill Tract plot, which is located near the intersection of San Pablo and Marin avenues and used for UC research projects.

The demonstrators consist of community members, urban farming enthusiasts and people aligned with the Occupy movement who have come together in hopes that the land be turned into a farming space. So far, they have ploughed and tilled the land and have planted broccoli, chard, squash, beans, kale and pumpkins.

UC Berkeley sophomore and demonstrator Lesley Haddock said the protesters are occupying 5.3 acres of the land partially in hope that it will not be developed.

“This is really the best land for farming,” Haddock said. “It is the richest agricultural soil left in the entire East Bay. This is our last chance at a center for urban agriculture.”

Currently, plans proposed for a space near the location being occupied would allow for the construction of a Whole Foods Market.

As of Monday evening, none of the protesters had been arrested. UC Berkeley spokesperson Dan Mogulof said UCPD will enforce campus policy banning people from setting up tents on campus property but only if and when they can do so “safely and effectively.”

“We don’t want a repeat of the conflicts that marred last semester’s events,” Mogulof said.

When tents were erected on campus during the Nov. 9 Occupy Cal protest, police officers physically confronted hundreds of protesters, making arrests, taking down the tents and injuring several people.

In response to the Albany occupation, the university turned off the water supply that provides irrigation to the land.

“This land is essentially an open-air research lab — it is not public land in the common sense,” Mogulof said. “It would not make sense to provide them with resources to continue an activity that would stand in the way of research that our university is conducting.”

According to Keith Gilless, dean of the UC Berkeley College of Natural Resources, the research that was being conducted by the campus involves plant biology.

“My concern is that the researchers who have things planted there will not be able to complete their projects,” Gilless said.

According to Haddock, the demonstrators are not concerned with potentially disrupting university research because they believe that biotech efforts do not benefit the greater community.

As of Monday, the demonstrators had tilled some of the land used by researchers but had intentionally roped off UC Berkeley associate professor Miguel Altieri’s research.

“The point is that there are many other places that our university could be doing biotech research, and this land has particularly great potential for farming,” Haddock said.

But Gilless said that to call the projects biotech is mischaracterizing the research, which he said studies plant pathology and disease.

According to UC Berkeley senior and Occupy Cal member Navid Shaghaghi, the protesters plan to remain camping out as long as they can.