Arbor Update

Ann Arbor Area Community News

Community Gardening

13. June 2006 • MarkDilley
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Just a snapshot outside of our little bubble here in Ann Arbor:

South Central Farm in L.A. is a huge community garden, providing for 350 families.

It is being threatened with being bulldozed right now. There are people putting their bodies in the way, others are sitting in at the Mayor’s office. Please take a moment to give calls to: Mayor Villaraigosa (213.978.0600) and Councilwoman Jan Perry (213.978.0600) to encourage them to do what they can to halt the evictions.

  1. It’s an interesting web site and story (even though its not AA related). I checked out the website, and this has been going on for a couple of years. They need to raise just over 5 million for the project to continue, though there is no mention of how close they are to that goal on the website. Also, the money is donated to a person, who then gives that to the org, seems just a bit wierd.

       —Just a Voice    Jun. 13 '06 - 09:17PM    #
  2. This has been building for quite some time. Basically, the community got use of the land for an indefinite amount of time. In all the agreements, the assumption was they would eventually lose their claim. A developer wants to build on it but the community wants to keep it. They don’t really have a legal claim to it and the organization that had sponsored the garden doesn’t have the resources to fight to keep it—hence, I guess, the fundraising.

    IIRC, there are also issues of fairness in that there aren’t enough plots to go around so anyone who wants one can’t get a plot.

    It’s definitely an amazing place, and has positive community benefits … it’ll be interesting to see how this plays out, but keeping it is a long shot unless someone shows up with a few million.

       —Scott T.    Jun. 13 '06 - 09:58PM    #
  3. Yah, they’ve had two years (really more), but that’s still alot of money to raise in that period of time. While I just heard of it, this really should have been something that could have been acomplished, real easy to ‘sell’ to the public. I love the sky-high view (of the photo) and it really looks amazing, a total contrast of its surroundings. I wonder if there are many parks in that area.

       —Just a Voice    Jun. 13 '06 - 10:44PM    #
  4. On a related local note, the Zion Lutheran Church on W. Liberty is having a meeting tonight from 7 to 9 pm, regarding the property it owns adjacent to Eberwhite Woods and the adjoining open space used by Project Grow’s community gardeners.

    Briefly, the church wants to sell the wooded area to the city through the greenbelt program and use the funds for its expansions/renovations, which will require the addition of some stormwater detention. They say that underground detention (beneath the parking lot) is too expensive and are leaning toward putting a pond where the gardens are now located.

    The gardeners want them to consider alternatives and appear to be working with the Allens Creek Watershed Group to promote the use of pervious pavement for the new parking lot.

    If the city doesn’t buy the land, it will be sold for development—probably about 6-8 single family houses, much like those already on Ridgemor Dr.

    I’ve advocated for the church to sell both the wooded area and the garden space to the city to preserve both and avoid the islanding of the woods lot. (AAPS owns Eberwhite Woods, so there is public access.)

    I’m heading over there soon. I’ll report later what gets discussed.

       —Steve Bean    Jun. 14 '06 - 01:51AM    #
  5. I thought the original intent of the Greenbelt Program was to acquire and preserve open space around Ann Arbor (hence the use of the term “belt”). I know that the official ordinance allows for purchases within the city of Ann Arbor, but it seems counterintuitive to remove usable space within the city from development to reduce urban sprawl. With this goal in mind, wouldn’t the construction of homes there be the more appropriate thing to do?

       —jcp2    Jun. 14 '06 - 03:59PM    #
  6. I don’t have a good enough grasp of the location to comment on the wisdom of that particular preservation of woodlot. Skimming the A2 Observer last night while waiting for take-out, I caught a bit that sounded like the church had a separate, larger parcel out in the actual greenbelt region that they wanted to sell for expansion funds?

    At any rate, seems that a variance from the zoning’s stormwater requirements in the name of preserving a community garden might be pretty well warranted.

       —Murph.    Jun. 14 '06 - 05:04PM    #
  7. An 80-story mixed-use tower would curb sprawl even more.

       —Brandon    Jun. 14 '06 - 06:22PM    #
  8. The meeting was well attended and lively. The Zion folks gave a good presentation of their (current) plans and answered questions/challenges/accusations/characterizations calmly and clearly for the most part, if somewhat defensively at times.

    I seem to have been confused about which land acquisition fund the church applied to receive consideration from. Apparently it’s through the city’s land acquisition fund, not the greenbelt fund. They expect to hear the outcome in July.

    The detention feature in question is a basin, not a pond. It must be designed to handle a hundred-year flood event and drain the resulting runoff into the storm sewer system within 24 hours.

    The garden area would be mostly replaced by part of the basin. There looks like there may be room to recreate garden spaces for 50% or more of the current area, based on the initial diagram presented.

    The church council committed to re-examining info on porous pavement options. Several audience members advocated the installation of a rain garden in front (Liberty St. side) of the church to further offset some of the detention requirements.

    There’s more to it, but I’ll stop there.

       —Steve Bean    Jun. 14 '06 - 08:01PM    #
  9. Too late for LA’s farm

    Los Angeles County sheriff’s deputies shut down a 14-acre urban farm in South Los Angeles on Tuesday, arresting more than 40 protesters as they cleared a plot of land that has been the source of discord and controversy in the community for two decades…

    In an afternoon news conference, Villaraigosa said owner Ralph Horowitz turned down $16 million — an offer that met the asking price. Talks broke down, the mayor said, in large part because Horowitz wanted the farmers evicted…

    “If the farmers got a donation and said, ‘We got $50 million, would you sell it to us?’ I would say no. Not a … chance,” Horowitz said. “It’s not about the money.”

    It took authorities nearly eight hours to forcibly clear protesters from the farm. Officials bulldozed vegetable gardens and chopped down an avocado tree to clear the way for a towering Fire Department ladder truck so the final four protesters could be plucked from a massive walnut tree. Among those aloft: protest organizer John Quigley and actress Daryl Hannah, who waved and smiled as supporters cheered her on from across the street.

       —Murph.    Jun. 14 '06 - 10:14PM    #
  10. Daryl Hannah?

       —Brandon    Jun. 14 '06 - 10:47PM    #
  11. It is extremely heartbreaking that this situation got to this point. In theory it sounds so easy to determine who is right and wrong. But if you look at the history, it gets a bit murky as the land was originally taken from private landowners by eminent domain (always a tangled web) in order to build a trash incinerator, which never materialized. While I think community gardens are incredibly important and have repeatedly voiced my opinion that there should be more in Ann Arbor on public land or donated land (as is the case for many of the Project Grow gardens in Ann Arbor), I just can’t advocate taking private property to make that happen.

    Some interesting pictures of the South Central Farm are on Flickr (looks like Alicia Silverstone was there too, and is that Julia Butterfly?).

    The Zion church situation that Steve Bean pointed out is actually very similar on a smaller local scale (and with a higher family income, although Project Grow does work with many low-income families) as that site has “perennial” plots and is considered the best of all the Project Grow gardens with some families gardening there in the same plots for over a decade.

       —Juliew    Jun. 15 '06 - 02:07AM    #
  12. “We come in peace” they said, to dig and sow
    We come to work the lands in common and to make the wastegrounds grow
    This earth divided, we will make whole
    So it will be a common treasury for all
    From the men of property, the orders came
    They sent the hired men and troopers to wipe out the Diggers’ claim
    Tear down their cottages, destroy their corn
    They were dispersed, but still the vision lingers on

    (Billy Bragg)

    If there were ever a case for eminent domain, this would be it – food security is among the highest of public uses, and a case where the owner probably has no use for the land except spite, and the farmers have funds in hand to pay a few million above market value? A takings would involve dislocation of no families, no businesses – no relocation costs or other collateral damage. This isn’t a Kelo or a Poletown, where a takings involves families being evicted for Pfizer or GM.

    From the history, though, it looks like there was no need for eminent domain at this point – the City erred pretty seriously in agreeing to sell back the land in 2003. I assume they know the local courts better than I, but if the original taking involved a right of first refusal back to the owner in the case that it was not put to public use within 10 years, well, it was. I see no need on the city’s part to settle and sell it back.

       —Murph    Jun. 15 '06 - 04:03AM    #
  13. Murph, the eminent domain was for a incinerator plant, not a public garden. The owner of that land had first right of refusal if they didn’t use it for building an incinerator.

    Plus, Murph, I’m calling you on total bullshit. You so edited that LA times article in a very manipulative way;

    The text from article without the missing paragraph;

    In an afternoon news conference, Villaraigosa said owner Ralph Horowitz turned down $16 million — an offer that met the asking price. Talks broke down, the mayor said, in large part because Horowitz wanted the farmers evicted.

    “Today’s events are disheartening and unnecessary,” Villaraigosa said. “After years of disagreement over this property, we had all hoped for a better outcome.”

    For his part, Horowitz said he had no intention of rewarding a group that included people he said had made anti-Semitic remarks about him even as they squatted rent-free on land that was costing him more than $25,000 a month to maintain — in addition to massive legal bills fighting their efforts to remain.

    “If the farmers got a donation and said, ‘We got $50 million, would you sell it to us?’ I would say no. Not a … chance,” Horowitz said. “It’s not about the money.”

    Now, I had read an article on this yesterday that said they had raised about 6 million, but needed 10 million more to meet the guys asking price. I’m guessing that the offer of $16 million came at the 11th hour and the property owner had been fed up with all whole bunch of bullshit and just was done with things.

    And Murph, as for Billy Bragg; imagine you owned a home (if you don’t already). Now say you have a yard, I can just plant on it and it should be mine right?

       —Just a Voice    Jun. 15 '06 - 06:53PM    #
  14. JaV – e-mail me and I’ll give you my address. You’ll have to work around my garden and the one already planted by people who don’t live here. I’ve got hose, spade, hoe, and so forth that you can use if you put them away afterwards. I advise you do some research on what does and does not grow well near black walnuts, and you’ll probably want to call MISS DIG before using the best remaining location – I don’t want you getting blowed up by my gas line.

    The eminent domain action’s return clause was not based on not using the land for an incinerator, as I read it, but on not using the land for a public use. The land was put to a public use, in my opinion (note: I am not a California state court), in 1993 as a public garden. Were this a case of “hey, let’s go out and take some land to start a community garden,” I’d be unimpressed. It isn’t. It’s a case of the city failing to have a spine in selling the property after 10 years in public use, and shit hitting the fan after that.

       —Murph.    Jun. 15 '06 - 07:22PM    #
  15. Murph,

    great response, and it made me smile, but I don’t know if it addresses the issues at hand.

    first, I did not read the actual eminent domain paper work. Have you? Where can I find it so I can get up to speed. Can we not all agree though that there is no way the land would have been given up for a garden? We may wish the world to prioritize differently, but we all know that eminent domain is pulled out for incinerator use, not garden use.

    Also, just because they were allowed to use the land for a garden for a while, why are they now entitled to that land.

    I must run, but will try to put more thought into what I write later.

    Your selective edit still was total bullshit

       —Just a Voice    Jun. 15 '06 - 08:28PM    #
  16. So, I’ll admit that I will request that you – and the hosts of local Voiceish-language talk radio – refrain from making negative comments about the Irish while you’re digging up my front yard. That’s just a poor showing.

    I’m not trying to cast the farmers as saints in all this – they admittedly displayed some poor manners in the course of their usufruct. On the other hand, though, I was siding with the landowner up until about two days ago. I had been under the impression that the landowner had spent 14 years trying to get the farmers off his land so that he could use it – I hadn’t known the part about the farm starting up while it was city land, with the blessing of the city, and operating for 10 years as a welcome use. I have less sympathy for the landowner knowing that he spent a few years suing the city to take back the land, knowing full well that he’d have a nightmarish time trying to get the farmers to leave. A few years of carrying costs that were foreseeable at the time he took possession is a less pitiable case than 14 years of dealing with squatters.

    But I’ll disagree with you – just because eminent domain would not have been used by the city to create the garden does not mean that retasking it to a public garden once the original use fell through is illegitimate. You ask, “Just because the farmers used the land for a while, why are they now entitled to it?” I’d say they’re not – but they’re entitled to continue using it. This is the perfect case of Lockean property rights, of enjoying a natural right to property by mixing one’s labor with it.

    Unfortunately, I can’t find any original documents – just what’s been reported. I spent a while trying to find the Court of Appeals’ opinion on FindLaw, which would provide good information on the technical bits, but re-reading, it looks like there was never an actual case; the Court of Appeals merely overrode an injunction placed on eviction by the lower court.

       —Murph.    Jun. 15 '06 - 09:56PM    #
  17. and the hosts of local Voiceish-language talk radio –

    what are you talking about?

       —Just a Voice    Jun. 15 '06 - 10:39PM    #
  18. Sorry, one of the news stories talked about local Spanish-language talk radio stations making anti-semitic comments about the property owner.

    Consider my metaphor officially over-extended.

       —Murph.    Jun. 15 '06 - 11:05PM    #
  19. Murph,

    I have some concerns about granting broad rights to the government to change the use of land obtained through emminent domain. To advocate for the devil, what if this land was originally taken to create a community garden, then the garden never really took off and the land sat unfurrowed. The previous owner claims his right to first refusal, but the city says that they have decided to put the land to public use by building a garbage incinerator. Or maybe they say they are selling it to Walmart instead, because the public needs a local place to buy frozen produce, bulk meat and 100-count packs of toilet paper.

    My point is if you let the use drift, it may be more likely to drift in a not-so-positive direction.

       —Scott TenBrink    Jun. 16 '06 - 06:15AM    #
  20. Sigh. You’d think by now I’d remember that I have to hit preview and post before closing the window…Okay:

    Scott, while I do think that community gardening is a valid public use, and I do think that property that is the subject of takings can (and does) shift uses over time – think rails-to-trails, for example – I don’t think that arguing the general case is useful here.

    In this very specific case, and using the information available, I think that the procedural issues are so completely muddled that procedural justice is not really possible to determine. Had the owner pressed his claim back in 1992, rather than waiting for over a decade, that’d be one thing. Had the City not settled in 2003, but taken it to the Court to decide, then we’d have an answer. As is, I think we have to settle for executing substantial justice.

    It is very clear to me that substantial justice would have left the property in the use of the people who had been working and improving it, with official blessing of the landowner (the City) for over a decade, rather than with the once-and-again owner. Since the question of procedural justice was so muddled, the best way to execute this substantial justice a week ago would have been to clear everything up with a new takings at the new asking price of $16 million. This would have left the land in the use of the farmers and provided the owner with an amazing return of 47% annually since his acquisition of the property, for $5 million, in 2003. (Maybe you want to argue his return should be calculated from 15 years ago – it still comes to a respectable 8%.) With donors lined up, the City wouldn’t have even had to pay for its mistakes.

    Notice that I said “a week ago.” At this point, probably the best way remaining to handle the situation would be for the City to line up / negotiate new land, through willing sale or granting of easements, for the farmers. One would hope that the donors would say, “No, that’s okay – don’t give our money back. We’re happy to support replacement farms as well.”

       —Murph.    Jun. 16 '06 - 07:06PM    #
  21. I stumbled across your blog while I was doing some online research. I truly hope that something can be done to save this community garden. With all the problems we have in society, the idea of a community garden is one that offers so many benefits to its participants, not only bringing them together on a social level, but helping to improve their general health and the beauty of the area in which they live.

       —panasianbiz    Jun. 25 '06 - 08:13PM    #
  22. Eberwhite Woods is apparently home to some rare plant communities as well as wetlands where frogs thrive. It’s impressive when you walk through it and have a sense of being much farther away from the city—a potent little piece of land. Given that, and the beauty and practical benefits of the community garden, I would be very much in favor of the city acquiring the land for additional parkland, even if it seems counterintuitive in terms of the greenbelt agreement and the need for housing. There should be room for exceptions and flexibility when they seem called for. Building on this land has to be the least healthy option for the woodland. As for the garden, I understand that is something that would have to be negotiated with the church. I would like to hope there could at least be a strong compromise allowing much of it to remain. It’s a jewel. I don’t know how open the church people are to being contacted and encouraged to consider what to them may be the more expensive option of allowing it to stay just as it is.

       —Irena Nagler    Jul. 24 '06 - 06:22PM    #