Santa Cruz City Council approved an agreement with Seaside Company for a new three-year lease on 16,000 square feet of the Beach Flats Community Garden at Tuesday night’s packed city council meeting. Seaside will reclaim 10,000 square feet for its own landscaping purposes.
Over 100 protesters, including UC Santa Cruz students and community members, marched from the Beach Flats garden to Santa Cruz City Hall, where they filled the meeting to hear news of the night’s only agenda item — a six-month progress report on the October City Council resolution declaring intent to find the garden a permanent home. Over a dozen community members, including students, spoke during the public comment section of the meeting, which lasted an hour.
The new lease will cost the city the previous nominal price of $1 annually. The city will pay taxes and water bills and be responsible for maintenance. Santa Cruz Parks and Recreation plans to install a wrought iron fence that the city and Seaside Company will share.
“This has been a frustrating process for every party involved. We have had the use of this property for 20-plus years at no cost for the city,” said Santa Cruz Mayor Cynthia Mathews. “When we were informed that Seaside wanted to have the use of this land back, it did take everyone by surprise. I think in the process Seaside has felt unappreciated [and the] gardeners have felt anxious and uncertain about their future.”
Tensions ran high at the meeting after a miscommunication between the city and gardeners led to mature fruit trees and perennials being bulldozed on March 24, disregarding verbal agreements made between city officials and gardeners.
“After many, many months of going back and forth with city officials and staff, we’ve been trying to establish this trust,” said Beach Flats resident Joe Bonanno. “That trust was really compromised. Until we rebuild that trust, it’s going to take an extra effort from the council to show us that ‘yeah, that was an accident, but we’re committed to saving this garden.’”
Despite the newly-signed lease, Beach Flats garden community members continue to look for a permanent solution beyond the three years.
“I’m dismayed that the council hasn’t committed and affirmed its decision in October to work towards the acquisition of the Beach Flats Community Garden as it is,” said Beach Flats Garden Coalition member Michelle Glowa. “The city needs to take prompt steps to move towards serious negotiations with the Seaside Company.”
One possible way forward would be to purchase the garden via eminent domain, which involves seizing the property from the Seaside Company for public use and compensating them with the fair market value.
Spokesperson for the Santa Cruz Seaside Company Kris Reyes was the only non-city council member given 10 minutes to speak at the meeting. He said, “We would view any attempt to claim the land via eminent domain as a very hostile action by the city, and one that does not reflect the nature of this partnership that we entered into over 20 years ago to provide land for the Beach Flats Community Garden.”
While the route of eminent domain was not chosen in the October meeting, Councilmember Micah Posner made a renewed suggestion at Tuesday’s meeting, directing staff to take action toward making an appraisal for the acquisition of the garden via either standard purchase or use of eminent domain.
“For us to succeed, we’re going to need to have a little stronger tact — we’re going to need to put eminent domain back on the table,” Posner said. “Hopefully not use it, but make it clear to the Seaside Company that we have some resolve as a city.”
This view was not shared by all council members. Councilmember Pamela Comstock compared eminent domain to theft, after recounting a memory of having her bike stolen at 8 years old by a man who needed to get to work.
“That man stole from me,” Comstock said. “And I don’t feel that this is any different. Taking land that does not belong to you is stealing, plain and simple.”
The comparison drew boos from the public, which prompted Mathews to adjourn the meeting for a short time after expressing her disappointment at the way the meeting was being conducted. There were instances throughout the evening of verbal disagreement voiced by Beach Flats supporters toward the city council. Mathews had called for quiet several times before the adjournment.
Beach Flats supporters also expressed dismay at a clause inserted into the lease which, in the event that a use permit was not granted to Seaside Company by the city, would grant them power to terminate the lease for the entire garden.
The use permit would approve Seaside’s plans for “agricultural and landscaping purposes that support the boardwalk and surrounding properties that [Seaside] own,” Reyes said.
“[It’s] really scary to me when it comes to trying to collaborate with peers, that Seaside tried to extort the city by putting something in the lease that says if we don’t give them the permit, then it’ll pull the plug on the garden,” Posner said.