By Doug Oakley and Kristin Bender
Bay Area News Group
UC Berkeley has sued more than a dozen Occupy protesters to keep them from camping and farming on the Gill Tract, a 10-acre research site, and to recoup legal fees and costs linked to damaging the land if they don't leave.
The lawsuit filed Wednesday in Alameda County Superior Court came as the self-proclaimed "Occupy farmers" were ordered at 6 a.m. Wednesday by university police to move off the property at Buchanan Street and San Pablo Avenue or face arrest. Police have given those orders daily for two weeks, but on Wednesday morning they took down the 20 or so tents that have been on the land for the past 17 days.
The occupiers also dismantled their camp and moved all their farming equipment and supplies to a nearby parking lot, which is also owned by the university.
"We really want to move on, we really want to avoid confrontation, but at the same time we must honor our commitment to our faculty and students in terms of their research and we must support academic freedom," said campus spokesman Dan Mogulof. "(The university must have) the ability for faculty to pursue their academic and research interests without interference from anyone, including a self-selected group of squatters."
If protesters voluntarily end the encampment, UC Berkeley will drop the lawsuit, he said.
Police put up a concrete barrier at the site's entrance on Jackson Street on Wednesday.
Blocking vehicle access makes it more difficult for the Occupy farmers to haul in water for the 15,000 edible plants they seeded and planted since setting up camp April 22. The university previously cut off water to the plot. Occupy farmers say they will continue to water plants by walking in buckets from a water truck parked outside the plot. Pedestrians can still come and go at the San Pablo Avenue entrance, said campus police Lt. Eric Tejada.
But Anya Kamenskaya, one of those named in the suit, said police threatened them with chemicals and other force Wednesday morning.
"We think UC is just trying to use intimidation tactics to force out dissenting voices from their agenda and vision for the tract," she said.
"This whole time we've been hosting open forums and invited UC and they have never once joined our forums."
Many of the protesters named in the suit are the same people who were part of the 21-month university tree sit protest to save a grove of Oak trees that campus police finally ended in 2008 just hours before the oaks were razed.
The Gill Tract is used by UC Berkeley's College of Natural Resources for plant research.
Occupiers want the university to turn over part of the land for community farming.
The university may strike a deal with the Occupy group to continue urban farming on an area next to the researchers if they keep their tents, property and farming equipment off the tract. It's not clear how much land the university would provide, Mogulof said.
"It's laughable that they sue us and say they there is still chance for dialogue," Kamenskaya said.
Mogulof said if the protesters don't allow the university to regain total control over the property, the university will seek damages linked to trespassing, rental value of the land during the occupation and attorney fees.
Staff writers Chris De Benedetti and Laura Oda contributed to this story.