UC police arrest 9 as they clear Occupy the Farm

Michael Cabanatuan and Ellen Huet
SF Chronicle, May 15, 2012

A three-week-long protest on UC Berkeley agricultural research land in Albany came to a quiet close early Monday when police cleared out a small group of protesters who had set up an urban farming camp.

University police officers in riot helmets arrested nine people after giving protesters 10 minutes to leave the Gill Tract near Marin and San Pablo avenues about 6:15 a.m. When officers fanned out across the fields, the few protesters who had not obeyed the police order scurried off the property and onto San Pablo, which authorities had closed to traffic.

Two protesters were arrested on suspicion of trespassing, said Lt. Eric Tejada, a police spokesman.

Work crews moved in shortly after 7:30 a.m. and began removing activists’ tents and supplies as several dozen protesters watched from the sidewalk. Seven were arrested on suspicion of unlawful assembly after they refused to move off San Pablo Avenue, said Dan Mogulof, a UC Berkeley spokesman.

The Occupy the Farm activists, who are loosely affiliated with the national Occupy Wall Street movement, had agreed to stop sleeping at the camp over the weekend. But most had not left the property and refused to negotiate with UC Berkeley administrators, Tejada said.

“UC has been in long negotiations, but the negotiations have never proven to be fruitful because they (the activists) literally never came to the table,” Tejada said.

Some decide to stay

One of the protesters, Ashoka Finley of Richmond, said he had been standing guard when police arrived. Finley said some protesters had decided they would rather be arrested farming than flee from police.

“We made a conscious decision to be inside,” he said.

Crews used a bulldozer to clear away more of the camp at midday, including a wooden structure frame labeled as a chicken coop. Protesters gathered against a fence and police responded by lining up inside, but no protesters re-entered the tract.

End of standoff

Lesley Haddock, an organizer of the protest, said the group wanted to cultivate crops, not camp on the property.

“We are going to be back on the farm one way or another, either outside looking in or inside cultivating our crops,” she said. “We’re not giving up on this land.”

Monday’s action was the culmination of a standoff that began when activists moved onto the tract April 22 as a protest against planned commercial development and housing nearby. They were pressuring the university to preserve part of the tract, which has been the subject of development debates for years, for agricultural study and urban farming.

The protesters tilled 2 acres on a site used by the College of Natural Resources for research. They planted vegetables, set up a drip system and pitched tents.

Last week, the UC Board of Regents filed a lawsuit against 14 protesters, claiming they and others had conspired to cut through chains that secured gates and trespass onto the Gill Tract.

The suit says a 24-hour-a-day encampment is not consistent with agricultural experiments, and that the demonstrators are delaying an annual corn planting.

“It’s impossible to do good science when you have a few dozen untrained, unsupervised and uninvited guests roaming around an open-air lab,” Mogulof said.