Police block entrances to Albany farm encampment

Christopher Yee/Staff
Police place barriers around the entrances of the Albany farm encampment Wednesday morning.

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ALBANY, Calif. — UCPD blocked off vehicle access to the encampment on UC-owned land in Albany known as the Gill Tract early Wednesday morning, causing protesters to fear their camp would be raided.

The west entrance to the land on Jackson Street was blockaded with a concrete barrier in front of a fence which was chained shut. The gate at the east entrance on San Pablo Avenue was open just wide enough for pedestrian access and was monitored by UCPD officers.

UC Berkeley spokesperson Dan Mogulof said Wednesday morning that pedestrians were free to come and go as they pleased from the tract even after police blockaded the entrances.

Protesters were alarmed by UCPD’s announcement at 6:15 a.m. that “chemical agents” would be used if they impeded the officers as they set up the blockade.

“Chemical agents are part of our admonishments,” said UCPD spokesperson Lt. Eric Tejada. “If you assault the police or interfere at any time, that would be a possibility.”

UC Berkeley senior and Occupy Cal member Navid Shaghaghi said he thinks the blockade is meant to keep the protesters from bringing their own water on to the tract, which he said the protesters have to do because the campus shut off the water supply to the tract.

Protesters moved tents and supplies from the plot of land near San Pablo Avenue and Marin Avenue to the plot directly south, where the protesters’ vehicles were previously parked.

Occupy the Farm spokesperson Anya Kamenskaya said the group had already discussed moving the camp and that UCPD’s actions helped solidify the decision to move.

“We have no desire to impede research,” Kamenskaya said.

Environmental Science, Policy and Management Professor Miguel Altieri — who said he is the only tenured UC Berkeley faculty member who conducts research on the land — went to the encampment Wednesday morning with seven of his students in order to start his research by planting tomatoes.

“I wanted to make a statement that researchers and occupiers could coexist and contribute to the dialogue needed to resolve this situation,” Altieri said.

UCPD’s actions Wednesday come on the heels of the release of the campus administration’s proposal for the future of the Gill Tract and an open forum held on campus by protesters Tuesday night.

The proposal — issued by Executive Vice Chancellor and Provost George Breslauer and Vice Chancellor of Administration and Finance John Wilton — asks that the protesters voluntarily dismantle the encampment and restore control of the land to the university. In return, water supply to the Gill Tract would be restored and negotiations with the campus could begin.

According to Mogulof, Wilton and College of Natural Resources Dean Keith Gilless delivered the demands Tuesday night and reiterated the points made in the proposal.

“The offer is still on the table … but we are taking steps necessary for the UC to regain control of its property,” Mogulof said of Wednesday’s UCPD action.

Kamenskaya said campus administrators were invited to an open forum in Morgan Hall Tuesday night to speak with the faculty, researchers, students and protesters but did not attend.

The encampment began on April 22 when protesters armed with hoes and seeds took over the plot of land used for research just across the Albany border. Their intention was to start a sustainable urban farm and protest the campus’ plans to develop part of the land south of the encampment for future commercial use.

Breslauer and Wilton have issued several open letters to the protesters over the past two weeks informing them that negotiations cannot begin until the encampment is disbanded and that legal action may be taken against them if they choose to stay.

“We would still really like to see a peaceful resolution, but as we have said we are at the point where we need to evaluate other options in order to let research go forward,” Mogulof said.

Later in the day, a press release from Mogulof announced the UC had filed a lawsuit in Alameda County Superior Court on Wednesday against 14 individuals allegedly connected to the encampment. In the suit, the university “alleges that the defendants … conspired to cut locks, enter the property illegally and establish an illegal encampment.”

News editor Adelyn Baxter contributed to this report.

Correction(s):
A previous version of this article incorrectly stated that a lawsuit filed by the University of California against 14 individuals in connection with the Gill Tract farm did not include any current UC Berkeley students. In fact, at least two of the individuals named in the suit are current UC Berkeley students.

A previous version of this article stated John Wilton is UC Berkeley’s associate vice chancellor of administration and finance. In fact, Wilton is vice chancellor of administration and finance.