About 40 activists who are part of a group calling itself "Occupy the Farm" are planting 15,000 seedlings on a 10-acre plot of land in Albany that is owned by the University of California at Berkeley, a spokesman for the group said today.
Gopal Dayaneni, a 43-year-old Oakland resident, said about 200 members of Occupy the Farm moved onto the land -- which is known as the Gill Tract and is located near the corner of Marin and San Pablo avenues -- at the peak of a protest that started on Sunday.
About 20 or 30 people spent the night on the land, he said. The protesters include local residents, farmers, students, researchers and activists, he said.
Dayaneni said protesters are occupying the land because it is the last 10 remaining acres of a 103-acre plot of land that UC Berkeley owns in Albany. He said the university has already sold off more than 90 acres.
"They got to sell 90 percent of the land and we want 10 percent of the land to be saved for farming," he said.
Dayaneni said he believes the university wants to sell off the remaining land to private developers who will use the space for commercial retail, a high-end grocery store and a parking lot.
UC Berkeley spokesman Dan Mogulof said Dayaneni's comments about the university's plans for the land are inaccurate.
Mogulof said the land is not slated for commercial development, but rather is "currently being used for agricultural research that will be impeded if the occupation continues."
He said there is proposed commercial development on another portion of the land in same general area, and that project is awaiting approval from Albany's planning commission and City Council.
Mogulof said a UC Berkeley faculty member grows produce on the land occupied by protesters, and that the produce "will be threatened if the occupation persists or a failure to maintain sanitary conditions contaminates the soil."
He said UC Berkeley plans "to reach out to those involved, convey the actual facts and discuss next steps."
Dayaneni said UC Berkeley police came to the plot of land on Sunday and warned the occupiers that they were trespassing. He said the officers eventually left.
"They were quite respectful, and we have no reason to expect them to make arrests or to behave inappropriately," he said.
Dayaneni said, "We're not doing anything that would cause us to be arrested. We're not too concerned about it."
But Mogulof said, "The protesters are in violation of campus policy and state law. If the occupation continues, those policies and laws will be enforced when we determine it can be done safely and effectively."
He said, "We do not want anything to impede the research."