Urban Ag Showdown

Student activists say they are ready to apply “political pressure,” including civil disobedience, to stop the University of California Berkeley from paving over Albany’s Gill Tract, the largest piece of undeveloped agricultural land in the urban San Francisco Bay Area.
[“We’ll] do whatever it takes,” said Urban Roots coordinator Courtney Hall.
For years, environmentalists and community groups have urged UC, a public land-grant school, to turn its Gill Tract into a center to promote urban agriculture — a popular international movement to feed cities from within, reducing transportation costs, fostering community, and providing natural respite from city stresses.
“So few of us are connected to anything that has to do with self-sufficiency or our natural world,” said Josh Miner, a graduate student and Gill Tract farmer. “Gill Tract has both.”
But the UC plan — with two similar bids under consideration — calls for at least 330 housing units, a community center, two Little League baseball fields, and retail development over a 26-acre area, including the 15-acre Gill Tract.
UC Berkeley is trying to meet student housing needs “in an environmentally sustainable way,” said UC senior planner Jeff Bond, noting that a decision is expected by January. “This is an ideal site for infill development.”
But in a September proposal, student activists urged UC to build the housing next to the Gill Tract, and spare the agricultural plots.
“This is viable,” says Hall, coordinator of the 15-page proposal distributed to UC, the bidders, community groups, and city officials. “Why isn’t it happening?”
If the university fails to consider the students’ plan, “we can ask our allies to put pressure on them,” says Hall. “[And] a lot of people are willing to chain ourselves to fences.”

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