A portion of land on the Gill Tract — a site of university-owned land in Albany — has recently resurfaced as a center of controversy after members of protest group Occupy the Farm entered a portion of the site Jan. 12 that is slated for the construction of a senior living complex.
W.E. O’Neil — the construction company contracted for the development — began initial stages of construction on the Gill Tract on Jan. 11. The next day, about 15 Occupy the Farm protesters cut through the fence and slipped onto the site to remove surveying stakes.
Members also congregated on the street outside a new Sprouts Farmers Market in Oakland on Jan. 13-15 to disseminate flyers protesting the development of the second portion of land intended for a new branch of the market. Police monitored the demonstrators but did not intervene.
Sprouts management declined to comment.
The project to develop the lot was first approved by Albany’s Planning and Zoning Commission in 2013 — finally approved in March 2014 from the Albany City Council — and has since been met with heavy opposition by Occupy the Farm, whose members said they would rather see the land used to support urban-based sustainable farming.
“We believe that farmland is for farming,” said Occupy the Farm member and UC Berkeley alumnus Gustavo Oliveira. “This is also about the priorities of research at the university and the priorities of development for us as a society — urban agriculture and agroecology are necessary now more than ever.”
Meanwhile, campus officials expect the development, once finished, to generate $1 million in revenue per year. According to campus spokesperson Dan Mogulof, this money can, in turn, “ironically” be used to help fund university-sponsored urban farming that is being conducted at the UC Gill Tract Community Farm. He added that it could also subsidize rent for low-income students.
“We believe it’s time to move on. We have established an urban farm on adjacent property,” Mogulof said. “We need revenue to support that farm — part of the benefit of this development is to support the urban agriculture that so many people want to participate in.”
Some members of Occupy the Farm, however, see the site as one of last available fertile portions of land to support urban farming in the East Bay.
“It’s some of the last remaining arable soil in the metropolitan East Bay Area,” said Occupy the Farm member and UC Berkeley alumna Susan Park. “It’s historic farmland.”
From 1943 until 2009, buildings such as barracks existed on the site that were first used to house U.S. military and then UC student families, according to Christine Shaff, spokesperson for UC Berkeley’s real estate division.
Construction of the Sprouts market has not officially begun, but crews for the Belmont Village Senior Living complex plan to move forward with construction in the next few days, according to Margaret Scott, the chief investment officer for Belmont Village.