May 14, 2012
By Doug Oakley
Bay Area News Group
University of California police arrested nine protesters at the university-owned Gill Tract on Monday, ending a 23-day occupation of urban farmland where activists wanted to grow food for surrounding communities.
About 100 officers clad in riot gear and brandishing batons began staging early in the morning near the 10-acre site near San Pablo and Marin avenues that is used for research by UC Berkeley's College of Natural Resources.
Seven protesters were arrested outside the property's closed gate for unlawful assembly, and two were arrested inside for trespassing. All of them were taken to Santa Rita Jail in Dublin and could be charged with misdemeanors, UC Berkeley police spokesman Lt. Eric Tajada said.
One protester remained perched in a tree, UC Berkeley spokesman Dan Mogulof said.
"He'll be down soon," Mogulof said. "He doesn't have any supplies up there with him."
One of the organizers of the occupation, Anya Kamenskaya, said she started farming the land out of the need for "sustainable food production in urban areas."
She said was partly motivated to trespass and begin farming without permission after trying for six months to get university officials to allow a nearby elementary school to use a small part of the land to teach its students how to grow food.
"The kids were really excited, but the university was mostly worried about liability issues," Kamenskaya said.
She said urban agricultural education is needed to teach people in the East Bay technical skills so they can grow their own food. The five acres the occupiers planted would feed about 250 families, she said.
Mogulof said the school was open to working with the occupiers to allow them to continue in some fashion on the condition they leave the property.
"Early on we made it very clear that there was room for both research and urban agriculture, and asked only that the occupiers vacate our land and return full control and supervision of the property to the campus," Mogulof said in a statement Monday morning.
Keith Gilless, dean of the College of Natural Resources, oversees the Gill Tract and said the university will continue to consider urban gardening but that those interested must participate in a university-sponsored process to make it happen.
Mogulof said researchers will begin preparing the land to plant crops in the next couple days.
During the police action Monday morning, UC Berkeley called in officers from eight of its 10 campuses, in addition to Albany police and Alameda County sheriff's deputies.
Mogulof said the university had hoped to avoid making arrests or issuing a dispersal order but felt the action was necessary to regain full control over the property after weeks of failed negotiations with protesters.
"The purpose of today's action is to ensure our faculty and students can conduct the research projects to which they have devoted much of their academic and professional lives," Mogulof's statement said. "Over the course of the last three weeks we have consistently stated that the field must be prepared for research crops by the middle of May, and we simply cannot wait any longer lest our faculty and students lose a full year of work."
But the clear-out doesn't appear to spell the end of the protesters' movement: Occupy the Farm supporters plan to reconvene Tuesday at the Albany Library, perhaps to plan their next move.
Doug Oakley covers Berkeley. Contact him at 510-843-1408. Follow him at Twitter.com/douglasoakley.
Staff writer Robert Salonga contributed to this report.