By: M. Whitney Jr. - Sat, 12 May 2012 23:39:15 -0800
ALBANY (BCN) -- Protestors have removed an encampment from University of California at Berkeley land in Albany but remain on the property and say they plan to continue farming the crops they've planted.
The group, Occupy the Farm, removed its tents and some other equipment from the 10-acre Gill Tract in Albany Saturday morning in what a spokesman described as a strategic move.
"We do not at this time require the encampment to hold the space," said group member Gopal Dayaneni. "We decided to break down the encampment, but we continue to farm and come and go as we please, as we have been doing, in order to maintain the crops and garden."
The university has filed trespass and nuisance lawsuits against more than a dozen of the protestors, who have been camping and planting vegetables on the agricultural research site since April 22. University officials said on Friday that they would drop that prosecution and include protestors them in community talks on the future of urban agriculture on the site, but only if they left voluntarily by 10 a.m. Saturday.
Today's action does not meet those conditions, according to university spokesman Dan Mogulof.
"The door remains open for them to voluntarily leave our property and to return full supervision of the property to the university, but if they don't we'll have no choice but to take whatever actions are necessary to honor our commitments to students and faculty," Mogulof said.
The university has said it needs to regain full access to the site within the next few days in order to allow agricultural research crops to be planted by the College of Natural Resources. Dayaneni said the group has voluntarily cleared the space needed by researchers, and that at least some members of the college have said they can "coexist" with the group.
University officials said they moved ahead this morning with talks involving city leaders, agriculture-oriented nonprofits, and community residents, among others, on plans to allow ongoing "urban farming" on the property alongside agricultural research. Members of the Occupy the Farm group were invited to attend, but only if they left the property beforehand.
Among other things, the talks led to agreement that a workshop in the fall allowing local and regional leaders to discuss the options at length "would be very well received," said Keith Gilless, dean of the College of Natural Resources.
"I am committed to facilitating an effective partnership between my college and the community about how urban agriculture and research can go beyond mere co-existence," Gilless said.
Dayaneni said the group remains skeptical of the university's commitment to urban farming on the site, given that the property has shrunk over the years from it's original 104 acres to it's current size. A neighboring site that was once part of the Gill Tract is slated to be developed with a mix of retail and housing, and the occupied site remains under the control of Capital Projects, the development arm of the university.
"There have been 15 years of proposals from community members calling for the preservation of agriculture on the site," Dayaneni said. "They really want to take the momentum for this kind of community farm project and dissipate it into years and years of talks, that's what they do."
The occupiers have said they want the university to commit to a public dialogue about the site, rather than a series of what they call "secret" meetings. Residents with questions, concerns or requests about the Gill Tract can email the university at gilltractberkeley.edu. (Copyright 2012, Bay City News, All Rights Reserved)
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