by Emilie Raguso, Berkeleyside
Update, 1:42 p.m. A UC Berkeley spokeswoman said four people were arrested Monday as the university resumed control of land in Albany’s University Village that had been taken over by Occupy the Farm activists who said they want to turn the land into an urban farm. Claire Holmes, a UC Berkeley associate vice chancellor who handles communications and public affairs, said one person was arrested early in the morning; two were arrested while interfering with the plow; and the fourth was reported to be interfering with police activities. Holmes identified the four as Erik Eisenberg, Ian Saxton, David Grefrath and Brooke Marino.
Eisenberg and Saxton were listed as in custody at the Berkeley Jail by the Alameda County Sheriff’s Department and scheduled for arraignment Tuesday at 2 p.m. at the Wiley W. Manuel Courthouse in downtown Oakland. Both were being held on bail of $7,500. Grefrath and Marino were not listed as in custody as of 1:50 p.m.
Update, 12:25 p.m. Occupy the Farm has announced plans on Twitter for a “reconvergence” Monday at 5 p.m. at San Pablo Avenue and Monroe Street: “We didn’t stop the tractor, but they can’t stop us!”
The University of California Police Department arrested several people Monday morning in Albany after activists marched onto a plot of land adjacent to San Pablo Avenue over the weekend with the goal to occupy the parcel and turn it into an urban farm.
According to a statement released by UC: “At approximately 4:30 a.m. Monday, 20 people were asked to leave the mixed-use development site in Albany or face arrest. The early-morning group left voluntarily with the exception of one individual who was arrested for trespassing and interfering with the police. A few hours later, as the university began to clear the field, two other individuals were arrested for the same charges.”
Shortly before 10 a.m., the university also used tractors to plow under the crops that were planted over the weekend. Activists said on Twitter that two people were arrested while trying to block the path of the tractor through the field. Activists released a statement Monday calling the police intervention “unnecessary,” because they had been planning to “de-camp” later in the day, with continuing plans to care for their newly planted crops. The group, which calls itself Occupy the Farm, took over the parcel of land Saturday, clearing the area of tall weeds and planting vegetables. The lot was partially enclosed by a fence but open in many places to easy access, despite numerous “No Trespassing” signs in the area.
Claire Holmes, a UC Berkeley spokeswoman, said the parcel had not been used as farmland for more than 70 years. The university has been working for five years with the city of Albany to develop the land into a mixed-use project that’s set to include senior housing south of Monroe and a grocery store north of Monroe.
The police presence over the weekend was minimal, with officers giving regular admonitions to activists that they were trespassing and could face arrest if they refused to leave. Police recorded many of the farming activities but otherwise allowed the group’s plans to proceed.
Activists, who say the land should be protected as open space and used for a community farm, weeded the property, tilled the soil and brought in farming equipment and hay bales to prepare rows for seedlings. An estimated 40-50 camped at the site overnight Saturday, but the group said its plans included just a short-term occupation over the weekend to set up the site.
“The university chose to remove the trespassers in a safe situation that would cause the least disruption to the community,” said Holmes on Monday. The land the activists cleared and planted over the weekend is the former site of World War II barracks and student housing.
Police will continue to monitor the area throughout Monday morning as members of the group remove their personal items and planting materials.
On Saturday, about 15 Albany residents staged a counter-protest asking occupiers to leave and saying that the small community, of less than 2 square miles, is not the place for a large-scale farm. The counter-protesters, all of whom were Albany residents, carried signs and rode bicycles around San Pablo, University Village and Buchanan to communicate their message to activists and members of the media in attendance.
Holmes said Sunday that the university had received multiple letters from residents in Albany last week “who were basically saying to us: ‘Please don’t let this happen again. We really don’t want these people in our city. We hope that you will take swift action to not have an occupation happen. That’s the predominant sentiment from the people who have been in touch with the university.”
Saturday, the level of enthusiasm among activists was high. Some activists played music and sang, as others worked the land.
Occupy the Farm spokesman Matthew McHale said the land should be protected as an educational resource “not only as a place to grow food, but also as a local food system resource for education to educate kids and get them energized and engaged, and as a place for UC to do much-needed research into urban agriculture.”
UC Berkeley last year said it plans to create an urban farming program that’s centered in part at the Gill Tract agricultural research field, just north of another fenced area near Monroe on the other side of Village Creek. But McHale said, as far as Occupy the Farm is concerned, the university isn’t going far enough with it’s plans.
“We need to preserve as much as possible,” he said. “We don’t want the development.”