In response to recent events at the Gill Tract in Albany, the University of California, Berkeley, which owns and manages the site, issued the following open letter to members of the local community today.
It is apparent that the occupation protest currently unfolding on the Gill Tract adjacent to the University Village has created some degree of confusion and concern about future plans and present facts. So, in the same spirit of collaboration and constructive dialogue that has characterized our relationship with the Albany community for many years, we want to provide you with some essential information about how the land is currently being used, plans for the future and the process we have been engaged in with the City of Albany and its residents since 2007.
• The agricultural fields on the Gill Tract that are now being occupied are not the site of a proposed assisted living center for senior citizens and a grocery store. The proposed development parcel is to the south, straddling the intersection of Monroe Street and San Pablo Avenue, and has not been farmed since WWII.
• The existing agricultural fields on the Gill Tract are currently, and for the foreseeable future, being used as an open-air laboratory by the students and faculty of our College of Natural Resources for agricultural research. Their work encompasses basic plant biology, alternative cropping systems, plant-insect interactions and tree pests and pathogens. These endeavors are part of the larger quest to provide a hungry planet with more abundant food, and will be impeded if the protest continues. And, they are categorically not growing genetically modified crops. We have an obligation to support their education and research, and an obligation to the American taxpayers who are funding these federally funded projects.
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• The university has been actively participating in a collaborative, five-year long community engagement process about our proposed development project with hundreds of hours of meetings, hearings and dialogue. We have a great deal of respect for all those who have been involved and regret that “Occupy the Farm” appears to have little regard for the process or the people who have participated in it.
• We take issue with the protesters’ approach to property rights. By their logic they should be able to seize what they want if, in their minds, they have a better idea of how to use it.
• We remain committed to moving forward, together with the Albany City Council and Planning Commission, with the commercial development of the parcel straddling the intersection of Monroe Street and San Pablo Avenue, where WWII barracks stood until recently. Our request to postpone the Planning Commission meeting was born in part of our sensitivity to the needs and interests of community members, many of whom are studying the details of the project for the first time as the result of media interest in the protest.
• The 2004 University Village Master Plan describes a proposal to eventually convert the 10-plus acre agricultural research parcel between Marin Avenue and Village Creek to open and recreational space for the community. As of now research projects are continuing and the university has not taken any steps to implement the Master Plan on the parcel. We have welcomed community workshops to explore the future use of this land and we continue to be open to further discussions with the community about implementation of the Master Plan on this portion of the property.
• We are passionate advocates of metropolitan agriculture projects that are well planned, sustainable and considerate of all members of our community. Representatives of the university are more than willing to meet with any interested community members to discuss proposals for metropolitan, sustainable agriculture.
• The university will continue the dialogue and discussions with the protesters as we seek a peaceful resolution. However, our researchers need to begin planting in the very near future and we cannot allow their work to be impeded. For that reason we are calling on the occupiers to dismantle their encampment immediately and establish a representative group to meet with UC Berkeley representatives to discuss opportunities for a metropolitan agriculture program affiliated with the campus.
If you are interested in additional, detailed information here is a list of useful web sites:
- The 2004 Master Plan (PDF)
- A university FAQ on the proposed mixed-use commercial development (PDF)
- City of Albany “mixed use retail” website
- City of Albany website on the Gill Tract
Together with Albany’s residents and elected officials, we have come a long way. Our collaborative efforts have produced a plan which we believe addresses significant community needs for open and recreational space, housing for senior citizens and a quality grocery store in an area that has been under-served to date. It should also be noted that revenue from the commercial development will be directed to lowering rent paid by low-income Berkeley students and their families living in Albany Village, while the city will benefit from the jobs created and additional tax revenue. These are just some of the reasons we believe that our combined planning process has produced the quintessential “win-win” proposal worthy of support.