Campus blocks vehicle access to Gill Tract, responds to demands

May 9 update: This morning UC Police Department officers placed two concrete barriers across entrances to the Gill Tract that provide vehicular access to university property. There were no reports of arrests or injuries, and pedestrians will continue to be able to enter and exit the property. Campus officials say the occupiers still have the opportunity to accept a proposal that would allow for a peaceful end to the illegal encampment, resumption of research activities and the continuation of urban farming on portions of the land that will not be utilized by faculty and students.

On May 7 the group involved in the occupation of the UC Berkeley agricultural-research fields issued a new set of demands in response to the university’s offer. In the wake of these new demands campus administrators issued the following statement:

 A Proposal Regarding the Gill Tract Occupation

 Last Thursday we met with representatives of the group currently occupying university-owned land that is used for agricultural research. We discussed steps that would allow for a peaceful end to the illegal occupation; a resumption of critical research work; and a continuation of urban farming on that part of the land that will not be utilized by our faculty and students. Our proposal is based on these simple, straightforward steps:

1. A voluntary and permanent dismantling of the tent city.

Why: Our faculty have made it clear that research requiring meticulous supervision and attention to detail cannot be conducted in the midst of an encampment populated by individuals who do not have the knowledge, experience or, for that matter, the legal rights that would justify or warrant their around-the-clock presence.

2. A restoration of university control and supervision over the land.

Why: As the owner of the property the university has legal liability and accountability for what happens on the land. We also cannot countenance the establishment of any precedent whereby a forceful seizure of property establishes a right to unilaterally dictate how the university conducts its research and educational activities. Free, unsupervised public access is simply incompatible with the environment and conditions necessary for complex agricultural research.

3. A resumption of water supply once the first two steps are completed.

Why: We believe in the principle of reciprocity and, as supporters of urban farming, desire to preserve as much of what has already been planted as possible.

4  An initiation of detailed conversation and planning, led by the Dean of the College of Natural Resources, on sustaining urban farming alongside agricultural research. These discussions would also need to be broad-based, including all interested parties from the surrounding community.

Why: We have determined that the land can be shared in the context of our support for urban farming. We also will not disenfranchise members of the Albany community who, in recent years, have spent a good deal of time and effort working with us in a collaborative planning process designed to ensure that future use of the land reflects and addresses the needs and interests of our neighbors.

5. While this dialogue occurs best efforts will be made, under the supervision of the Dean of the College of Natural Resources, to protect the planting that has occurred as long as it does not interfere with the faculty’s research. 

Why: We believe this is the best and only way to balance and coordinate two very different agricultural endeavors on a single parcel of land.

In our opinion this is what a win-win-win result would look like in that the proposal addresses the needs and interests of our faculty and students, the Albany community and those interested in urban farming. The door remains open to a peaceful resolution based on this proposal, and we will be ready to step back from any effort to hold the occupiers accountable, in terms of civil or criminal legal actions, if it is accepted. 

In this context we received with disappointment and dismay the occupiers’ response that was published last night. We find it very difficult to understand the moral, legal or intellectual basis for demands that would put a self-selected group in a position to dictate how, when and where our faculty conduct important research to which they have dedicated their professional lives. There is also a stunning degree of arrogance and entitlement inherent in this group’s demands and statements about what they are “willing” to do for our researchers. There is no legal or moral foundation for this attempt by individuals involved in an illegal and forceful seizure of property to dictate terms.

Those who have been following developments since the occupation began on April 22nd know that we have been patiently seeking a peaceful conclusion through constant dialogue with members of the encampment. The Dean and faculty from the College of Natural Resources have been frequent visitors to the site, and have made every effort to engage, explain and explore the possibility of compromise. At the same time we are and will remain accountable to our neighbors in Albany–including parents of children who attend the elementary school adjacent to the tent city–who are, in growing numbers, asking that we take steps to regain control of our property.

Finally, and perhaps most importantly, the continuation of this occupation threatens a principle that lies at the heart of any institution of higher education: academic freedom. A growing number of our faculty are insisting that we preserve their right to pursue their educational and research interests without interference from a self-selected group of squatters. As the Chair of our Academic Senate recently said, “If there is no way to reach a win-win resolution, then I believe that the faculty’s freedom to do their planned research must be supported as a key principle….we must stand by this.” Our commitment to preserve academic freedom is part and parcel of who we are as one of the leading research universities in the world. Whether it is in the areas of health, agriculture, public policy, human rights or engineering, the preservation of academic freedom is non-negotiable.

So, where does that leave us? While we will continue to leave the door open to an acceptance of our proposal that would allow the illegal occupants to leave the land without consequence, the university has no choice but to take the steps necessary to enforce our legal rights, protect academic freedom, preserve the collaborative community-based planning process and work with our law-abiding neighbors who share our interest in finding a way to allow for peaceful coexistence of urban farming and agricultural research on the Gill Tract.

Our position since the beginning of the occupation and our decision to now pursue other remedies arise from 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. This statement is fully supported by all of the above.

The occupiers’ response to our proposal has made it very clear that they still intend to hold our property and research projects hostage, refusing to relinquish control unless we submit to their demands. We still, however, hold out hope that in the days ahead cooler heads will prevail and they will agree to accept their portion of the win-win-win proposal we have offered before the non-negotiable need of our researchers to begin work forces our hand.

George Breslauer
Executive Vice Chancellor and Provost

John Wilton
Vice Chancellor, Administration and Finance