It’s fascinating to read the media coverage about the Occupation of UC Berkeley’s Gill Tract, the last prime piece of urban farmland along the eastern shore of San Francisco Bay and the inevitable showdown approaches between campus cops and the urban farmers now in occupation.
San Francisco Chronicle scribe Chip Johnson is abruptly dismissive of the action, declaring “their claim to the land and the reasons they’ve cited for their actions are as empty as the section of field they have commandeered.”
The whole tone of Johnson’s column won him inclusion on FreeRepublic.com.
Our sympathies are with the Occupy activists, because the issue they raise is critical: Creating educational centers to teach communities the skills of food cultivation in an era of economic uncertainty and dwindling resources.
The university contends it’s already made concessions, though experience teaches that UC Berkeley usually does only what the administrators want, and these days that’s catering to corporate needs.
Here’s the latest from Cal’s administrators, including a 10 a.m. Saturday deadline for evacuation of the tract:
On May 11 the UC Berkeley administration released the following statement concerning the Gill Tract:
After weeks of patient dialogue and rejected proposals for a peaceful resolution of the occupation, UC Berkeley will be taking the steps necessary for research to commence, and urban agriculture to continue on the Gill Tract.
On Saturday morning the dean of our College of Natural Resources, Keith Gilless, will lead a planning meeting that will tackle the details of how the Gill Tract will be shared by our researchers and urban agriculture, and how the effort will be supported, coordinated and sustained under the university’s supervision. The meeting and its agenda were developed in collaboration with the City of Albany, and participants will include appointed city officials, members of the Albany community identified by the city manager’s office, residents of University Village and UC Berkeley faculty members and students.
We are also reserving two seats at the table for representatives of the group that is still occupying our property. They have claimed that they do not want to interfere with our research and seek only to support urban agriculture. If that’s the case, we are hard-pressed to understand why the occupation needs to continue, given the fact that we are now moving forward with plans to have a portion of the land used for urban agriculture. In order to take their seat at the table, all they need to do by Saturday at 10 a.m. is pack up the encampment, leave our property and join a discussion that will advance one of their key goals. If they leave peacefully and do not attempt to re-occupy University property, we will also cease to pursue criminal prosecution and/or civil litigation against the occupiers. If, however, they elect to continue preventing us from regaining complete control and supervision of our property, planning for shared use will continue in their absence. And, if they refuse to depart, we will also take the unilateral steps necessary to protect the academic freedom of our faculty to pursue their interests without interference. The research work must begin in a very few days and our commitment to act in its support is firm and non-negotiable.
We also want to assure the entire Albany community that we have no intention of retreating from the open and transparent collaboration that has characterized the planning process for the long-term future of the Gill Tract and the adjacent parcels of land. We fully support the sentiments expressed in a recent op-ed from an Albany resident who condemned “the tactics taken by the Gill Tract occupiers, who have ignored due democratic process and… ignored years of arbitration between the university, University Village, the city of Albany, and Bay Area environmental groups.”
We promise to keep our neighbors fully updated on the planning for a continuation of urban agriculture, will work with city officials and community leaders to ensure there is every opportunity for public input, questions and comments. We will also do everything in our power to ensure there is ample opportunity for the broadest possible public participation in the urban agriculture endeavor, as well as any discussions about long-term plans for the land. We will also everything necessary to ensure that the ongoing operations at the Gill Tract remain under university supervision and are conducted in a manner that is respectful of the interests and needs of our neighbors. In support of those goals the College of Natural Resources has established an email address to allow our neighbors to weigh in, request information and have their voices heard.
As much as we abhor the tactics embraced by the occupiers, we acknowledge that their actions helped to raise the public profile of urban agriculture and generate constructive conversation about its value. Our College of Natural Resources was, prior to the occupation, already in an advanced stage of planning for an expanded urban agriculture program and the discussion has sharpened the college’s focus on getting the program underway. So, we urge the occupiers to take ”yes” for an answer, leave our property, allow the research to commence and have a seat at the table. We are moving on and can only hope they will quickly decide to choose collaboration over confrontation.
This statement, like every previous message, is the result of a careful, broad-based decision-making process that includes senior administration leaders, the chair of our Academic Senate and other members of faculty, the deans of the College of Natural Resources and the Graduate Division, UCPD, Student Affairs and Community Relations.
Executive Vice Chancellor and Provost
Vice Chancellor, Administration and Finance