Occupy the Farm protesters broke into UC-owned research land in Albany again Sunday to tend to the crops they planted on the Gill Tract earlier this spring.
About 30 people showed up at noon to tend to and gather the crops after diverting the attention of the guards and trespassing onto the enclosed land.
The protests first began after the members of Occupy the Farm heard about the University Village Mixed Use Project, a proposal the Albany City Council was considering that would construct a Whole Foods Market, a senior housing complex and a mixed retail center on a portion of land belonging to UC Berkeley’s University Village housing complex.
Protesters said the development project — which was planned for several years and was finally approved by Albany City Council on July 9 — provides no guarantees against the agricultural land being paved away. Furthermore, they said the mega-complex may impact the soil and increase car exhaust in the area, which would cause air pollution and asthma for Albany residents.
“Most importantly, there is no guarantee that in the future the agricultural land will not be developed further,” said Kelly Jewett, a UC Berkeley fifth-year and Occupy the Farm member. “In all reality, there is no explicit intention to develop agricultural land.”
Keep Albany Local, a local organization against the project, has spearheaded a petition that includes over 1,400 signatures calling for a referendum of the city council’s decision. If the petition is approved by the Albany city clerk, a referendum will appear on the November election ballot, giving Albany residents the option to rescind approvals for the development project, said Sally Sommer, an Occupy the Farm member and Berkeley resident.
Jewett said the protesters’ goals are to continue their efforts and create a working farm collective that is open to the public and functions as an educational resource for the East Bay community.
UC Berkeley spokesperson Dan Mogulof has said the university does not have the resources to monitor the area full-time and that pursuing lawsuits against the Occupy the Farm protesters was not their priority.
“We are in a difficult situation and don’t have the resources to monitor the Gill Tract around the clock,” Mogulof said earlier this month. “There is a group that seems to care little about property rights or the rule of law. We need to focus on ensuring that the research goes unimpeded and unharmed.”
Though UCPD officers told protesters not to damage the property, members of the Occupy the Farm said they did not feel like they were trespassing because the Gill Tract is public land.
“(Trespassing) is not really a significant aspect of this,” Jewett said. “Personally, I feel that this is public land. They don’t put a fence up around Sproul Plaza.”