Farm defenders immobilize bulldozer with lockboxes
January 28th 2016
Albany, CA—Contractors with the UC administration began construction work on the southern portion of the Gill Tract, a historical farm sold to the University of California in 1928 under the condition it would be used for agricultural research and education. Contractors using a bulldozer, a backhoe, and an excavator began removing the valuable topsoil this week – until a group of farm defenders locked down onto the machinery to stop construction.
“We are putting our bodies on the line to halt construction and restart a public debate on the fate of this land,” explained Jean Mortensen, one of the protesters locked down to the excavator. The group Occupy the Farm vows to continue holding the lock-down until the University of California halts construction and returns the land for urban agroecology research.
The UC is privatizing this section of the Gill Tract for the construction of a high-end senior assisted living facility by the Belmont Village corporation, alongside construction of a Sprouts supermarket and a parking lot.
Community members, students, and UC faculty have put forth an alternative proposal to use all twenty acres of the historic Gill Tract as a Center for Urban Agriculture and Food Justice, serving the University of California’s mission of research and education for the public good, while also operating as a productive urban farm that provides students, workers, and community members with access to affordable local produce. This proposal better aligns with UC President Napolitano’s Global Food Initiative as well as the sustainability and climate mitigation policies of the state of California.
“We have tried every formal and institutional route for a more democratic decision on the fate of this land,” explains Gustavo Oliveira, a spokesperson for Occupy the Farm. “But the UC administration and their corporate partners only reconsider their plans for privatization when opposed by organized direct action.”
Farm defenders say their actions are very much in solidarity with recent organizing by local indigenous leaders, who have been holding ceremony and demanding access to the land for the purposes of research and education into indigenous lifeways.
The privatization and construction launched on the site has been contested by students, faculty, and members of the community for almost two decades. In 2004, the UC Regents approved commercial development despite years of campaigning by students, faculty, and community members for the preservation of the land for urban agriculture and food justice, and proceeded bulldozing greenhouses in 2008 and contracting with Whole Foods for development of the site.
In April 2012, Occupy the Farm reenergized this struggle by camping on the land and planting a publicly-accessible farm on the Gill Tract. Under pressure, Whole Foods pulled out of the proposed development, and the UC administration granted protection for a portion of the land, some of which is now the vibrant Gill Tract Community Farm.
However, the 7 acres of the southern portion of the Gill Tract remains slated for development with a shopping center anchored by Sprouts supermarket, a hihg-end senior housing complex, and a parking lot. UC Capital Projects now seeks to implement this project despite another occupation in May 2013 and other mobilizations on the land in 2014 and 2015, two lawsuits, an Albany City referendum effort, broad based and constant community participation at the Albany City Council in favor of preserving the farmland for agricultural use, and an ongoing campaign for Sprouts to drop its proposed construction project over the Gill Tract.
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