Gill Tract

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The term Gill Tract refers to 104-acres of land in Berkeley and Albany, California that the regents of the University of California purchased from the family of the late Edward Gill in 1928. Since its acquisition by the University of California, the Gill Tract experienced iterations of development for industrial, residential, agricultural and educational use.

The University Village rests on 52.5 of the original 104 acres. [1] A sixteen acre portion was granted to the Federal government for a United States Department of Agriculture research campus. A nine acre portion is the current site of Ocean View Elementary School and public baseball fields.

Urban gardening plots are available to University Village residents on 6.6 acres at the western edge of the Gill Tract. Ten acres of arable, undeveloped land are used for urban agriculture and agricultural experimentation and research; bound by Buchanan St. to the north, Village Creek to the south, Jackson St. to the west, and San Pablo Ave. to the east.

Four acres of trees and grasses known as Albany Meadows, formerly University Village residential buildings, serve as part of a wildlife corridor in the East Bay. The remaining six acres held facilities for agricultural experimentation and student residential buildings until their demolition in 2007. These two areas; bound by Village creek to the north, Codornices creek to the south, San Pablo Avenue to the east, and Jackson Street to the west, are included in a plan for commercial development by the University of California, Berkeley.[2]


Before Spanish colonization of the Americas, the territory of the native Ohlone people included what is known today as the Gill Tract.

Spanish Colonial[edit]

On August 3, 1820 Luis María Peralta received a Spanish land grant that included the acreage at Gill Tract.

Post Spanish-American War[edit]

Sometime after the 1848 Spanish American War, a person by the name of Captain B.D. Boswell assumed ownership of land that includes today's Gill Tract. This Captain Boswell then sold the piece of land to its namesake, Edward Gill, around 1890. Edward Gill, a horticulturalist, built a home on the land and established a large nursery, which he operated until his death in 1909. Gill's son continued to operate the nursery until he sold his father's land to the University.

Sale to University of California[edit]

On February 14, 1928, the regents of the University of California purchased the 104 acre Gill Tract for $450,000.

World War II government acquisition and development[edit]

In 1943 the Federal Government announced to local officials of its plan to requisition a portion of the Gill Tract and construct a wartime housing project. After the announcement of this plan, War Housing Project No. CAL 4479, an organized resistance emerged that included political and business leaders in Berkeley, Albany, and some of the regents of the University of California. City officials opposed the potential loss of tax-revenue to public housing. The University regents were opposed to the loss of 42 acres of the Gill Tract from their control. John Blanford, administrator of the National Public Housing Authority, railroaded this plan for development with the assurance that, under the Lanham Act, by two years after an end to the emergency of war, the land would return to its owners in the same condition that it was received.[3]

Construction by the Federal Housing Authority of the Codornices Village began by October 1943. By August 1944 the Codornices Village made-up 1,896 residential units, of which 1,056 were located in Berkeley on 75 acres over 15 city blocks. The section of Codornice Village in Albany lay on 42 acres of the requisitioned Gill Tract. The initial unit rental charges with all furnishings and utilities included were $31.50 per month for a studio, $36 a month for a one bedroom, $42.50 a month for a two bedroom, and $47 for three bedrooms.

Racial integration of public housing during World War II[edit]

Throughout World War II the majority of civilian war workers in Codornices Village worked as shipbuilders at Mare Island, while another large portion of residents were Navy personnel who worked at the nearby Naval Landing Force Equipment Depot adjacent to the Albany Bulb.

John Melville, the first on-site manager of Codornices Village, stressed that no racial restrictions would apply to applicants for housing. Beginning in May 1944 with some of the initial residents, Codornices Village became home to a large portion of Black migratory workers from the South, and an equal portion of caucasian workers and Navy personnel. All of the social services in the village were racially integrated from the onset, a decade before the Civil Rights Movement. These services included child-care centers, an elementary school, and a church.

Post World War II[edit]

In the Spring of 1946 the Federal Housing Authority disassembled nine two-story fourteen-unit apartment buildings in Oregon and reassembled them in Albany on the Gill Tract near the intersections of Jackson and Buchanon Streets. The project was known as Albany Veterans Village at Gill Court, and became the home to veterans and their families from its opening on November 15, 1946 until June of 1959, when it was demolished due to health and maintenance concerns.

Additionally, the US Navy constructed a complex of fourteen apartment-buildings on the Gill Tract by March 1945. This one-hundred-unit development, known as the Kula Gulf Navy housing project, was home to Navy Veterans and combat personnel and their families.

Reacquisition by the university[edit]

On June 28, 1948, President Harry S. Truman signed the McGregor Act, which allowed the Federal Housing Authority to relinquish its portion of Gill Tract to the University of California. On October 31, 1948, the Albany City Council transferred ownership of the nine buildings and furnishings that comprised the Albany Veterans Village back to the University of California.[4]

Additionally, on April 15, 1956, the UC Regents purchased 40 buildings of the portion of the Codornices Village located on Gill Tract and 14 buildings that comprised the Kula Gulf Veterans Housing from the Federal Housing Authority for $44,000. One week after this purchase, the business manager for UC Berkeley, William W. Monham, recommended that the entirety of the married-student housing project be known as University Village. On April 30, 1956 the name change was approved by President Robert Sproul.[5]

Urban agriculture[edit]

Beginning in 1969, plots for urban agriculture were available to residents of the University Village. Until 1975 the University would provide irrigation and an annual till free of charge. In 1979, a 12 x 20 foot plot cost $1 per year. By 1984 a plot cost $5 tilled, and $2 without a till. By 1990 and thereafter, the charge for a plot was $10 for the first one and $5 for each additional one. Hoses and water were always provided free of charge and a till cost $8 per plot.[6][7]

Today, small plots for urban agriculture are available exclusively to University Village residents on 6.6 acres at the western edge of the Gill Tract.

Agricultural research[edit]

Since 1944, 36 acres of the Gill Tract were used as an experiment station for Biological Pest Management; known as the Experiment Station for the Center for Biological Control in the College of Natural Resources. In 1998, experimental land for the Center for Biological Control was drastically limited in order to accommodate epigenetic research of non-GMO corn to patent genes for the genetic modification of organisms. [8]

August 10, 2013 marked the beginning of a participatory research project between UC professor Miguel Altieri and forty participants from surrounding neighborhoods. The participants split into ten groups of four and each managed a small plot of land as part of a competition to see which group could grow the most pounds of food per square foot.

Ocean View Elementary School[edit]

Ocean View Elementary School is located on the former site of the Albany Veterans Village.

University Village[edit]

University Village is the current iteration of a housing community at Gill Tract for students at UC Berkeley who are married or have dependents.

Occupy the Farm[edit]

Main article: Occupy the Farm

Occupy the Farm is an ongoing social movement that started with the occupation of the Gill Tract in Albany, California, in protest of planned commercial development of public land and in support of preserving the land for the creation of an open center for urban agroecology and food sovereignty.[9] Since at least 1997, coalitions of local residents, NGOs, and University of California (UC) students and faculty have brought forth proposals to the UC administration for the creation of a center for sustainable urban agriculture.[10][11] The UC administrators turned-down these proposals, something at least three UC faculty involved with the projects say was due to UC administrators stonewalling the process and not giving the proposals a good faith consideration.[12][13][14][15][16] The occupation began on 22 April 2012[17] and ended on 14 May 2012.[18]

A land occupation was launched again on May 11, 2013 on the south end of the Gill Tract, which was slated for privatization and construction of a parking lot, a chain grocery store, and an exclusive senior's home. Occupiers cleared the tall grass, tilled the land, and planted multiple vegetable gardens with support of more than 100 members of the community over that weekend. This second occupation was raided by UCPD on May 14, but members of the movement and supporters returned to reoccupy and plant again on the following weeks. After a second police raid on the occupation encampment, the movement switched focus from land occupations to the establishment of a community partnership with agroecology researchers at the College of Natural Resources for access to a portion of the Gill Tract.[19] Still, the UC continues to propose a development project with Sprouts Farmer's Market, and so the movement is organizing a Boycott Sprouts campaign.[20][21][22]


  1. ^ "Agricultural Lands," Bancroft Library Archives, 364-B, Office of the President, 27 March 1950.
  2. ^
  3. ^ Oakland Tribune, 16 September 1943, p. 31; Berkeley Daily Gazette, 18 August 1943 pp. 1, 3, 6.
  4. ^ U.C. Berkeley Housing List, June 1955, Bancroft Archives, 364-B.
  5. ^ Monahan to Clark Kerr, Chancellor, memo dated 13 April 1956, Bancroft Archives, 364-B, 1959.
  6. ^ "Village Gardens Ready for Use," The Villager," U.C. Berkeley Housing, Village Office, Albany, California, April, 1984, p.1.
  7. ^ "The Garden Patch," The Villager, April 1988, p.4.
  8. ^
  9. ^ "Why This Farm?". Take Back the Tract. Retrieved 21 May 2012. 
  10. ^ "Creating a Center for Sustainable Urban Agriculture and Food Systems at the University of California Gill Tract in Albany". Retrieved 21 May 2012. 
  11. ^ "Village Creek Farm and Garden". 
  12. ^ "Urban Farm Dreams Have 15-Year History". Retrieved 21 May 2012. 
  13. ^ "How to turn the "occupy the UC Gill Tract" conflict into an opportunity for resolving key food, environmental and social problems affecting our Bay Area urban communities?". Retrieved 21 May 2012. 
  14. ^ "BACUA Synopsis". Retrieved 21 May 2012. 
  15. ^ "BACUA Q&A". Bay Area Coalition for Urban Agriculture (BACUA). 
  16. ^ "Creating a Center for Sustainable Urban Agriculture and Food Systems at the University of California Gill Tract in Albany". Bay Area Coalition for Urban Agriculture (BACUA). Retrieved 21 May 2012. 
  17. ^ Conant, Jeff (24 April 2012). "Occupy v. Whole Foods? Activists Take Over Land Slated for Development and Start a Farm". Alternet. Retrieved 30 April 2012. 
  18. ^ Reports, Staff (14 May 2012). "Nine Arrested After Early-Morning Police Raid at Gill Tract – Albany, CA Patch". Retrieved 2012-11-23. 
  19. ^ Upton, John (2013-05-14). "Occupy the Farm movement rises again, hours after being raided". Grist. Retrieved 2013-12-05. 
  20. ^ by Friday Sep 27th, 2013 6:05 PM (2013-09-27). "Vegetables Bulldozed inside Sprouts Farmers Market grocery store". Indybay. Retrieved 2013-12-05. 
  21. ^ "boycottsprouts". boycottsprouts. Retrieved 2013-12-05. 
  22. ^