Frequently Asked Questions

Frequently Asked Questions

What is the Gill Tract?
Has this land ever been used for farmland?
Isn’t there a community farm on the Gill Tract?
How has the community responded to the proposed commercial development?
How have UC Berkeley students responded to the development?
Who is behind this commercial development?
Why is the University refusing to use this land for sustainable agriculture research?
Why did the biological control center get shut down?
Where can I find the  Environmental Impact Report (EIR) publicly available?
 

 

What is the Gill Tract?

The Gill Tract Farm is the last remaining 20 acres of what was a one hundred acre farm that the UC has owned for almost a century.  Capital Projects, the Real Estate division of the University has had plans to privatize this entire piece of public land since the late 1990s, and they are imminently planning to pave over about 6 acres within the coming year.

Capital Projects and the UC’s media relations define the Gill Tract as the area north of Village creek, and they claim that the area under threat of development is a vacant lot.

We define the Gill Tract Farm as all 20 acres of the historic 100 acre farm that currently exist as open greenspace.

The area of the historic Gill Tract in question is currently managed by Capital Projects, and is located between Jackson Street, San Pablo Ave, Village Creek and Cordonices Creek, excluding the land used for little league fields and the temporary structures at the corner of Jackson and Monroe Streets used by the Albany Unified School District. The 5-6 acres eastern portion of this land along San Pablo Ave is slated for a development set to begin within the 2015 calendar year.

This area includes the land directly south of Village creek that previously had the greenhouses used for the Biological Control Research Center, and which contained Edward Gill’s rare tree arboretum.

Has this land ever been used for farmland?

The south side of the Gill Tract was productive farmland when the Gill Family owned it, before they sold it to the UC in 1929. Barracks were built on the most southern parts of the land during WWII. The barracks were torn down several decades later, and since then that land has remained open green space. Another part of the south side, directly south of Village Creek, contained greenhouses and buildings that were used for agricultural research for decades until they were torn down in the late 2000s.

Despite light foundations for temporary barracks, the top-soil of these southern portions remains intact, and the current open space provides an unparalleled opportunity for urban agriculture for the entire east bay community.

Isn’t there a community farm on the Gill Tract?

There is a 1.1 acre farm on the north side of the Tract, which was established in April 2014. The Gill Tract Community Farm is a collaborative project between the UC and the community, focused on issues of food justice and urban farming. The remaining acres on the north side are currently being used for research on corn genetics.

But even the north side of the Gill Tract is not protected for the long-term. After the occupation in 2012, UC Berkeley stepped back from its plans to develop the land into a baseball field and recreation area, and committed to saving the land for 10 years. But they have made no promises for what they will do afterwards. We want to see ALL of the Gill Tract preserved in perpetuity, for research and education at a community-driven Center for Urban Agriculture and Food Justice.

How has the community responded to the proposed commercial development?

The current conflict over the Gill Tract is just the latest episode in a long struggle that pits the financial interests of the University of California against the long-term interests of many East Bay community members. In 1997, a group of 30 community groups came together to form the Bay Area Coalition for Urban Agriculture (BACUA) and presented a proposal for a Center for Sustainable Urban Agriculture and Food Systems on the Gill Tract. Since then, there have been many organizations including both students and community members who have advocated for this alternative to the proposed commercial development. These include Urban Roots, the Institute for Sustainable Agriculture, Keep Alabany Local, the Albany Farm Alliance, and the Gill Tract Farm Coalition.

UCB’s Capital Projects likes to point out all of the opportunities that the community had to give comments on the proposal- but they do not highlight the fact that at these meetings there was significant community opposition to the project.

Students for Engaged and Active Learning’s recent Report on Food Initiative on the Gill Tract includes the Public Comments at Last Two City Council Meetings, Comments from City Council Members, a Resolution from Albany City Council requesting space for Albany Schools and Community to participate in gardening education, and Local Albany Response to Insufficient Community Process: https://sealstudents.files.wordpress.com/2014/11/final-report-for-dirks2-ed-for-website.pdf

Here is one community member’s synopsis of the City process:

“At the end of 2007, the UC began the process through the City of Albany of design review and rezoning part of the Gill Tract to commercial zoning in order to develop a supermarket and assisted living facility on 6 acres. Community members attended every Planning and Zoning and City Council meeting where this project was on the agenda continuing through 2014. They questioned the rezoning, design review and Environmental Impact Report and opposed development on this land. They submitted comments which were incorporated into the Final EIR Report, but completely ignored. They challenged the project based on traffic impacts, air pollution impacts, greenhouse gas emissions, impacts to farmland, destruction of mature trees, and other impacts. (Many of these challenges were similar to those made when the UC prepared their Supplemental EIR for the project in 2004.) The range of alternatives proposed by these Albany citizens and community members ranged from a small, local, independent grocery rather than a chain supermarket to no development at all. At every stage in the process, they were ignored except for one important vote in 2012, when a single City Council member opposed the rezoning. They then challenged the approval of the Development Agreement with a successful referendum petition, and the City Council had to rescind that Agreement. Finally, a lawsuit was filed, challenging the EIR. This lawsuit is still being heard in the appellate court.” – Ed Fields, local Albany Resident

How have UC Berkeley students responded to the development?

In the mid 2000s, students were integral to Urban Roots, a student and community coalition that protested the planned development. Campus groups, including the Student Organic Garden Association wrote comments on the EIR that were never sufficiently addressed. In 2004, students addressed the UC Regents about the education and research opportunities of the Gill Tract, but the Regents approve the commercial development.

Many current and former students, several of whom had worked on the Gill Tract as undergrad and grad students, took part in the 2012 occupation and have been vocal advocates for Urban Agriculture on the Gill Tract. During the occupation in 2012, the Associated Students of the University of California (ASUC) passed a resolution in support of Occupy the Farm, which called for “a productive resolution that ensures Gill Tract will provide learning, community farming, and agricultural research for the local community of Albany and campus community.” (http://asuc.org/senate-bills/spring-2012/resolution-in-support-of-occupy-the-farm/)

In 2014, a group of UC Berkeley students started SEAL (Student for Engaged and Active Learning), in order to pressure the UC administration to halt the development and work with community members on transforming the space into agricultural land. SEAL has met with the Dean of the College of Natural Resources, the Vice Chancellor of Real Estate, the Associate Chancellor of Community Relations, the Chancellor of UC Berkeley, as well as the Regents and President of the University of California, but student concerns from these meetings were never addressed.

Who is behind this commercial development?

The original developer behind the project was the LaLanne Group. The LaLanne Group’s president, Bob LaLanne, is now the Vice Chancellor for Real Estate at U.C. Berkeley, which oversees the development.

The approval of the development by the City of Albany was shepherded by Albany Planning and Building Manager, Jeff Bond. Before joining the City of Albany, Jeff Bond was a senior planner with UC Berkeley’s capital projects division where he oversaw the original development plan for the Gill Tract.

The UC Regents approved the development plan in 2004.

Why is the University refusing to use this land for sustainable agriculture research?

The University claims that they need the money from this development because they have been losing money from the state. This is also the reason that they say that they need to be raising tuition rates for students across the state by 27%. These austerity measures come alongside rapid increases in the number of administrators and their paychecks. Students are paying more, while the UC Regents mismanage public resources.

Why did the biological control center get shut down?

This center was actively dismantled by the University between the late 1970s to the 1990s in result of pressures within the University from industrial agricultural corporation, the demands to increase funding through patent-driven research, and because of the interest in attracting more corporate donations. This dismantling was done through strategic restructuring of the department, which is explored with more depth and nuance in “The Killing Fields”, and article by Jennings, written in 1997.

This transition from Biologic Control to research for the benefit of petrochemical interests and industrial agriculture increased substantially after 1997 when the department of Plant and Molecular Biology received a $25 million donation from Novartis. This moment shifted research within the College of Natural Resources. Today, the Executive Associate Dean of CNR is the first person to ever carry out a field trial of a genetically modified organism.

Where can I find the  Environmental Impact Report (EIR) publicly available?

The final EIR can be found on the City of Albany’s website: http://albanyca.org/index.aspx?page=1322.

There is a lawsuit challenging the EIR as insufficient, which is still pending. You can read about the case here: https://sealstudents.wordpress.com/2015/04/15/a-chance-for-justice-for-the-gill-tract-farm/