This morning, UC Berkeley upped the ante on the Occupy the Farm squatters at the Gill Tract, blocking most of the entrances and warning them that chemical agents may be used against them. This afternoon, the university took another tack when it filed a lawsuit against 14 of the occupiers. The suit requests a court order requiring the defendants to leave the property, plus monetary damages and the reimbursement of UC legal costs.
The group consists of dozens of protesters who broke into the UC-owned tract on Apr 22. The group says the tract, which is used for agricultural research, is underused, and they want to utilize it for urban farming and education, as well as provide food for those in need and prevent the land from being developed.
The university has been negotiating with the group and says there may be a way to accommodate some of their goals, but only if they leave first. The Occupiers have responded by issuing a set of demands they want met before they agree to leave.
"We have been very patient since this began on Apr 22," UC Berkeley spokesperson Dan Mogulof told me this afternoon. "But at this point time is growing short. The research efforts [by UC researchers] need to begin by the middle of May, and we really have no choice but to begin to exercise options that will allow us to regain control and supervision of our research property."
Here's the full statement from UC Berkeley:
Today the University of California commenced legal action against fourteen individuals alleged to have participated in the illegal occupation of the University’s Gill Tract property. This lawsuit represents an additional step that the University is taking to regain control of its property so that it can be used for agricultural research and education. At the same time, the occupiers still have the opportunity to accept a proposal that would allow for a peaceful end to the illegal encampment, resumption of research activities and the continuation of urban farming on portions of the land that will not be utilized by faculty and students.
The suit, filed in Alameda County Superior Court today, alleges that the defendants, along with other unknown individuals who are sued as “Does,” conspired to cut locks, enter the property illegally and establish an illegal encampment. (There are no current UC Berkeley students among the named defendants.) It alleges that the defendants continue to trespass on the property, despite repeated warnings from the UC Police Department that their presence is illegal. The suit alleges that the defendants’ illegal occupation is preventing research and educational activities on the property and that “if defendants do not leave the property immediately, the growing season will be lost” resulting in substantial harm to researchers, students and the University. The suit requests a court order requiring the defendants to leave the property.
The University is also seeking an award of monetary damages for costs it has or will incur as a result of the trespass and for the rental value of the land during the occupation. The University also seeks payment by the defendants of its attorney’s fees under a state law that allows it to recover fees in a lawsuit involving “trespassing on lands . . . under cultivation.”
This legal action is not the only step that the University is prepared to take to protect the rights of its researchers and students, but it is one part of our efforts to end this illegal occupation. Among other things, it is a means to ensure that the trespassers—rather that the University, students and taxpayers--will bear the substantial expenses resulting from unlawful acts.
A copy of the suit is attached, and here is a link to the statement we released last night in response to new demands issued by the occupiers.