By Terry Collins
SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — The University of California filed a lawsuit Wednesday against protesters occupying a patch of UC Berkeley property where they planted crops nearly two weeks ago.
The suit filed in Alameda County Superior alleges that the group of 14 unnamed protesters conspired to cut locks, trespass and establish an illegal encampment.
University officials are requesting a court order requiring the protesters to leave the property, and are asking for monetary damages for costs associated with the protest.
Occupy protesters issued a statement earlier Wednesday saying they don’t plan to leave the 10-acre site. Instead of leaving, protesters said they will hold a potluck and conduct a full night of farming.
A march also was planned from the North Berkeley Bay Area Rapid Train station Wednesday evening.
Earlier in the day, UC Berkeley police put barricades around the school-owned property where the protesters have started an urban farm.
No arrests were made as officers arrived at the property in nearby Albany around 6 a.m., and placed two concrete barricades to prevent any non-university related vehicles from going into the site, UC spokesman Dan Mogulof said.
However, people were being allowed to go to and from the site, which is considered as an “open-air laboratory” used for university research, Mogulof added.
The early-morning sighting did create a tense scene for the group known as Occupy the Farm, protester Lesley Haddock said Wednesday. Haddock said she feared a possible raid after being awakened to police announcing over a megaphone that they blocked the entrances with barricades and that chemical agents may be used if protesters tried to interfere.
“It was pretty intense,” said Haddock, a sophomore at UC Berkeley. “We’re pretty invested in this space, but to see a bulldozer right at one of the blocked entrance is a pretty intimidating site.”
Haddock said that as a sign of good faith the group moved their encampment to allow researchers to do their jobs. She said her group will continue to try watering their crops by having buckets of water being brought in by foot.
About 200 Occupy squatters broke into the Gill Tract on April 22 — Earth Day — and pitched tents and planted crops to protest planned housing and commercial development nearby. The protesters want the parcel preserved as an urban farm to serve the community and educate children. The land is the remainder of a larger piece of farmland the university acquired back in the 1920s.
University officials want the demonstrators to vacate the property as they claim the protesters have disrupted agricultural research by faculty scientists and students. A UC report released Friday offered 50 recommendations to help administrators avoid using police force to respond to campus demonstrations.
Among them, the university wants the activists to leave the land in exchange for allowing the group to participate in discussions about using part of the property for farming, and warned them last week they could be prosecuted if they did not break camp.
“We still hope that cooler heads will prevail and our proposal will be accepted,” said Mogulof, adding that campus research must resume by mid-May. “We’re leaving the offer open, but we’re moving down the road to regain the property and allow research projects to commence.”