Grounded in the Cause

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Beach Flats Community Garden supporters filled Pacific Avenue around 6:20 p.m. on Feb. 9 on their way to Santa Cruz City Hall. The protesters, led by gardener Don Emilio Castañeda (center), demanded the entire garden be preserved for the community. Their presence immediately grabbed passerbys’ attention. Despite a strong showing at the protest, the gardeners agreed to vacate the downsized garden space so it can be redesigned before the next growing season.

 

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.

Santa Cruz Parks and Recreation employees (left) installed a plastic fence on the morning of Feb. 3 to separate the 60 percent of the garden that will be rented to the city for the next three years. Gardener Don Emilio Castañeda’s current plot lies on Seaside’s section. He and other community members advised the employees to tread carefully so as not to compact the garden’s soil during installation. Police officers (right) were on site but just observed, then left when the fence was installed.
Santa Cruz Parks and Recreation employees (left) installed a plastic fence on the morning of Feb. 3 to separate the 60 percent of the garden that will be rented to the city for the next three years. Gardener Don Emilio Castañeda’s current plot lies on Seaside’s section. He and other community members advised the employees to tread carefully so as not to compact the garden’s soil during installation. Police officers (right) were on site but just observed, then left when the fence was installed.
Gardener Don Emilio Castañeda's face while the fence was being installed.
Gardener Don Emilio’s face during the fence’s installation.
The marchers convened in the garden around 5 p.m. on Feb. 9 to rally and make signs. Sounds of excitement and enthusiasm filled the space as more and more people arrived and the energy built in anticipation of the march.
The marchers convened in the garden around 5 p.m. on Feb. 9 to rally and make signs. Sounds of excited conversation filled the space as more and more people arrived and the energy built in anticipation of the march.
 Gardener Don Emilio Castañeda spoke in Spanish to the crowd in the garden before the march, “Thank you for coming to this beautiful garden we have here and for supporting us with all you have done. We live and do everything here.” His words, as well as those of other speakers, were met with cheer and applause before the march began.
Gardener Don Emilio Castañeda spoke in Spanish to the crowd in the garden before the march, “Thank you for coming to this beautiful garden we have here and for supporting us with all you have done. We live and do everything here.” His words, as well as those of other speakers, were met with cheer and applause.
“If we work together we can change our community. If we work together we can continue to have the garden. Believe me, let's keep this energy together,” shouted garden co-founder Marciano Cruz, while addressing the charged crowd downtown during the march. A large portion of the marchers were UCSC students who stood in solidarity with the gardeners and the Beach Flats community. “I was really happy to see the presence of students here at the march,” said fourth-year plant science major David Robles. “You can see the majority of people here are students, so that's huge and that says a lot about the students carrying about their community.”
“If we work together we can change our community. If we work together we can continue to have the garden. Believe me, let’s keep this energy together,” shouted garden co-founder Marciano Cruz, while addressing the charged crowd downtown during the march. A large portion of the marchers were UCSC students who stood in solidarity with the gardeners and the Beach Flats community. “I was really happy to see the presence of students here at the march,” said fourth-year David Robles. “You can see the majority of people here are students, so that’s huge and that says a lot about the students carrying about their community.”
 City Council member Micah Posner (left) prepares to address the crowd outside of City Hall just before the start of the 7 p.m. meeting. Supporters chant “What do we want? The garden! How much do we want? All of it?” among others.
City Council member Micah Posner (left) prepared to address the crowd outside of City Hall just before the start of the 7 p.m. meeting. Supporters chanted “What do we want? The garden! How much do we want? All of it?” .
“I do want to buy the Beach Flats garden for the community and for the people of the Beach Flats. That’s one, there are seven people on the Santa Cruz City Council,” Micah Posner explained. He also emphasized the influence city council elections have on the future of the garden. “If you were one of those people who didn’t vote, now you have an example of why city council is important. Register to vote, find candidates and tell those candidates that you want them to buy the garden.”
Supporters held up signs against the window during the city hall meeting. “I am going to ask that those people outside remain quiet and allow us to carry on the city’s business,” said Santa Cruz Mayor Cynthia Mathews over the city hall loudspeaker from inside the meeting. The group dispersed and moved away from the city council meeting about 15 minutes after the meeting began.