Occupy the Farm rallies against land development at UC Gill Tract

Suyang Lu/Staff

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On Thursday, opponents of a land development project protested a state court ruling that would allow the project to advance.

Protesters met at the UC Gill Tract Community Farm in Albany to rally against the development project and the June court decision. Partly overseen by UC Berkeley’s real estate division, the project would include senior housing and a Sprouts Farmers Market — along with other smaller retail stores — in a vacant lot next to a university-owned research field.

At about 6 p.m., more than 100 protesters marched south on San Pablo Avenue, where two protesters were hit by a car swerving through the crowd. The injuries sustained were not fatal.

The protesters congregated at the corner of San Pablo Avenue and Monroe Street, a short distance from the farm, at 4 p.m. to give speeches about the importance of preventing the land’s development.

According to a speech by UC Berkeley alumnus Antonio Roman-Alcala, the process of deciding what to do with the Gill Tract land took into account only the interests of certain people who “claim to represent the community.” In reality, the community isn’t unified about what to do with the land, he said.

“This land here is pretty much priceless as a source of being able to provide nutritious, healthy food for the people in the Bay Area,” said David Piller, an Oakland resident. “It just seems really irresponsible and short-sighted to turn it into anything other than a source for food for the community.”

Magnolia Dawes, a North Bay resident, said that after going through all the legal means to try to prevent the development of the land, the protest and rally were another attempt to make their voices heard as community members.

“Project opponents have had access to the venues a democracy provides for the resolution of disputes or conflicting interests: the ballot box, representative elected bodies and the courts,” said campus spokesperson Dan Mogulof in a statement. “In each of these settings their perspective has not prevailed.”

Because they had already taken advantage of every legal route to try to prevent the development, the protesters’ “potentially disruptive” methods of protesting the project aren’t likely to change the course of action for the land, Mogulof said.

Demonstrators carried banners and posters with phrases such as: “Public Land for Public Health” and “UC puts corporate wealth over public health.” As they walked through the streets, the protesters chanted, “Whose farm? Our farm!” and “Step back, step back — stay away from the Gill Tract.”

Opposing protesters also rallied near the Gill Tract to show their support for the creation of the senior living center and retail stores. Jessica Cross, an Albany resident in favor of the project, said that in order for “actual rural areas” to be preserved, vacant urban lots such as those in the Gill Tract area must “be developed in a smart way.”

Albany resident Tina Klugman said the Gill Tract farm’s great potential to benefit the community is shown, in part, by the way it provides a space for learning and “intermingling of different age groups and cultures.”

“Most cities are putting in rooftop gardens and urban gardens,” Dawes said. “And here we are taking away the chance to do that and putting in parking lots and stores, and I just think that’s unacceptable.”

The court ruling disagreed with a lawsuit against the city claiming that the project’s environmental impact report was inadequate and with the subsequent appeal alleging that it failed to list appropriate development alternatives. The rally and protest were organized by Occupy the Farm, which has been active since 2012.

Contact Kayla Kettmann at [email protected].

A previous version of this article stated that the development project is overseen by the College of Natural Resources. In fact, the UC Berkeley real estate division is overseeing the campus’s part of the project.