Driver knocks several protesters to the ground in Albany

ALBANY, Calif. (KTVU) - A protest march in Albany became even more impassioned Thursday evening, after a driver tore through the demonstration, knocking a few people to the ground.

It happened on San Pablo Avenue, as a group of about 60 "Occupy the Farm" activists made their way back to two disputed lots slated for commercial development.       

"Farm in, Sprouts out, farm in, Sprouts out," the crowd chanted, declaring their opposition to a Sprouts grocery store on land owned by U.C. Berkeley.

They have long lobbied for a community garden on the fenced-off plot.

U.C. Police were monitoring the gathering, and Albany Police were escorting the march, when a Cadillac blaring its horn drove into the midst of the group.

When protesters reacted angrily, pounding on the car, the driver hit the gas and sent one woman tumbling.

Emotions on both sides were already high.

"There's a grocery store people can go to, two blocks down," argued a young woman from Occupy, face to face with counter-protestors, who welcome Sprouts.

"This isn't a wild space, this is an urban area where we live," insisted an Albany woman, holding her own sign supporting the store.

In addition to the retail space, a senior living facility is approved for a site across the street. Opponents sued to stop the development, but lost in court.

Many residents complain the protesters don't live in Albany.  

"I know that having something in town that would bring in some taxes would be a wonderful boost," Marsha Skinner told KTVU, "and I have friends who would like to live at the senior facility."  

Several years ago, about the time the Occupy movement emerged, the "Occupy the Farm" faction claimed the space as public farmland.

It sits next to the Gill Tract, where U.C. already conducts agricultural research and community gardening.

The area also has a large student housing complex, an elementary school, and Little League ball fields.

"I want you to know this struggle right here matters," shouted an activist into a bullhorn, as protestors cheered.

"We are part of a global movement," she continued, identifying herself as Alexandra from an organization called Food First. 

The would-be occupiers say they want produce not pavement on the land, but city leaders say the decision, after a decade of planning, is final.     

"There's lots of land they can occupy and grow vegetables on and be welcome to do that, in Oakland," Albany council member Michael Barnes told KTVU, "but they have never persuaded anybody in Albany that this is a good idea." 

The protestors are hoping their presence will prompt Sprouts to pull out of the project, as Whole Foods did previously.

But they were accompanied throughout their demonstration, by a smaller but vocal group of development supporters.

"What do we want? Senior housing! When do we want it? Now," they shouted from across the street.

There is antagonism on both sides, but the hit and run had more to do with impatience than ideology.

Police chased the driver for several miles, then gave up the pursuit due to the danger.

The woman who was hit, once back on her feet, rallied fellow marchers.

"If it takes getting run over to save the Gill Tract from development," shouted Mindy Stone, "then I'm happy to throw myself in front of a car."

Witnesses told police there were two young men in the car.

With their license plate clearly visible, they will likely be tracked easily. 

The development is expected to break ground in the fall.