Down and Dirty: Activists Occupy Hayes Valley Farm to Keep Developers Out

With a gender-neutral identification here and a tree platform there, a group of Occupiers has moved into the tract of land formerly known as Hayes Valley Farm and renamed it Gezi Gardens, in solidarity with recent Turkish protests. The farm moved out of the space on June 1, in accordance with an interim-use agreement with the city of San Francisco, because half of the block-wide tract is being sold to developers to make way for a $42 million, 185-unit mixed-use development. The Occupiers moved into the 2.2-acre parcel shortly thereafter in a bid to prevent said development.

The activists held a community meeting on June 4 to kick around ideas and get input from the neighbors. Of the 25 or so people clustered around rickety wooden benches and tattered leather sofas under eucalyptus trees, about a third were from the neighborhood. But the largest part of the group was made up of protesters and stragglers who'd been attracted by what the development could mean. Many had drifted in from other Occupy movements around the country, including Occupy the Farm in Albany. A weathered man who called himself Diamond Dave said that he'd hitchhiked in 1963 on the space's former incarnation as the Central Freeway on-ramp, and never thought he'd be sitting there 50 years later, building community. “We can do more together than any of us can do on our own,” he says.

But for all the discussion, and for all the efforts the group has been making in the space since it moved in — including re-planting vegetables and creating water cachments — it was unclear what the best possible outcome should be. There was feeble talk of getting a fund together to buy it back from developers Avalon Bay Communities and Build Inc., who are in escrow to buy the parcel for about $9 million from the city of San Francisco. There was talk of setting up residence in newly constructed tree platforms. There was talk of persuading prominent community members and politicians to speak out. But very few tangible action items were drawn.

On June 7, the SFPD served the activists with an eviction notice on the grounds that they were trespassing on private property, a misdemeanor.

For their part, the founders of Hayes Valley Farm have moved on and have no comment on the current occupiers of the space. Hayes Valley Farm spokesperson Angela Goebel says that the group of volunteers who originally founded the farm has not disbanded. “Though [the physical Hayes Valley Farm] part of the project is concluded, we do see our work continuing through these legacy projects in San Francisco, and continue to advocate for interim-use projects,” she says.

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