Over 200 voices chanting “¡Cuanto? Todo!” (How much? All of it!) shook Santa Cruz City Hall after protesters marched from the Beach Flats Community Garden on Feb 9. The protesters demanded City Council work to acquire the entire garden space from Santa Cruz Seaside Company instead of the downsized area they were offered.
The community garden opened in the early ‘90s when Beach Flats residents restored an abandoned lot and turned it into a social space and a source for organic food. Seaside leased the land to the city for $1 per year from 1993-2015, ending the lease last November.
In October, City Council said that it would vie to obtain the entire 26,000-square-foot garden after hearing from many concerned community members. As negotiations continued between the city and Seaside, the city decided to sign a three-year lease on Nov. 10 for 16,000 square feet — 60 percent of the previous garden area. Since then, there has been communication between Seaside, the city, the gardeners and Beach Flats Garden Coalition –– community members who are the spokespeople for the gardeners –– about the future of the space.
The purpose of the Feb. 9 protest was to push City Council to negotiate for the whole garden. They also protested City Council’s notification that the gardeners would be evicted if they didn’t file the city application for a plot in the new space. Santa Cruz Parks and Recreation employees put up a temporary plastic fence on Feb. 3 to separate the city’s and Seaside’s sections.
“The council threatened that if the gardeners did not sign the form, they would be barred from gardening in the new garden and [the city would] begin the legal process of eviction to kick the gardeners out of the space,” said Beach Flats Garden Coalition member Michelle Glowa.
Gardeners and coalition members perceived the city’s request as a threat, but Vice Mayor Cynthia Chase said it was simply a legal matter.
“For anyone who doesn’t want to sign that form [to get city permission to garden] for any reason, we have to legally notify them that they have to be removed from the land,” Chase said. “It would be illegal for us to not do that.”
Garden supporters hoped the city would negotiate with Seaside to buy the property instead of leasing it. They also hoped the city would refrain from enforcing the eviction law until those negotiations had begun. The city upheld the Feb. 16 deadline for the intent to garden forms.
As of Feb. 16, 12 of the 17 registered gardeners have signed the city’s forms and agreed to vacate the site until it can be reallocated for the next growing season. Seaside didn’t respond to requests for comment by the time of publication.
“[The gardeners] might not be in agreement with the city giving up the 40 percent, but they want to continue gardening and they want the city to work toward the acquisition of the entire property,” Glowa said.
City Council plans to discuss the garden’s future in April. Pictured here are scenes from the march and of the installation of the fence.