Campus and students to sit down and discuss tracts of land in Albany

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After months of controversy, students and administrators will sit down to discuss the campus’s plans regarding a parcel of land in Albany, although the campus does not intend to alter its original plans to develop the plot into retail markets and senior housing.

The campus is slated to begin development in the near future. For the past two years, UC Berkeley students and community members have demanded that the university reconsider its plans for the land and instead develop the tract into additional spaces for educational learning and research of urban farming and agriculture.

Two separate parcels are slated for development by the university: a retail parcel, bordered by Village Creek and north of Monroe Street, and a parcel for senior housing, just south of Monroe. Both plots of land touch San Pablo Avenue, but neither is a part of the Gill Tract, which is located west of San Pablo Avenue next to University Village.

In the past, Occupy the Farm, a community-based movement, has fought the planned development with the city of Albany by protesting and occasionally planting crops on various portions of the land. A new student-driven movement named Students for Engaged and Active Learning, or SEAL, has recently called for the land to be made into a research and learning space, submitting a petition with more than 400 signatures protesting the development Tuesday.

The campus has already worked with the community on developing fields with research labs in the Gill Tract, bordered by Marin Avenue and separate from the two contested areas, said Magnolia Barrett, Student Organic Garden Association member.

UC Berkeley vice chancellor for real estate, Robert Lalanne, agreed to meet with a SEAL delegation on May 7 to discuss the divisive issue.

At the meeting, student protesters from SEAL will express their desires to use the two plots slated for development for agricultural education and research. Delegates from SEAL advocate that the community, rather than the city or the campus, should decide the fate of the 20 acres of land that has since been approved by the city of Albany for university development.

“We want this to be a space where students can have a hands-on learning experience,” said Haley Broder, the ASUC director of sustainability. “Learning is supposed to be outside the classroom, and it’s on this urban farmland where most of the learning from agriculture could happen at our research institute.”

Even though the campus will talk the development over with students, the university has not changed its mind on development and remains firm in its plans.

“The university needs ways to develop revenue to stabilize and keep rent down (for those) who live in the Albany Village,” said campus spokesperson Dan Mogulof.

Development will likely not happen before the May meeting because not all preliminary steps have been made before the campus can start developing, Mogulof said.

Contact Bo Kovitz at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter @beau_etc.