Local mutual aid and food distribution organization Food Not Bombs (FNB) is facing a location dilemma after receiving notice to vacate Lot 23 from construction and development company Anton DevCo. The organization subsequently received a notice from the City of Santa Cruz to relocate a shipping container holding canned foods by the end of the week and vacate from their new location at Lot 27 by March 1.
“Unfortunately, City Lot 27 is not a long-term option for FNB. The way Lot 27 is demarcated, it is impossible for FNB, or really any vendor, to operate in that lot without substantially and negatively impacting parking and the flow of traffic within the lot,” said Emergency Services Manager Paul Horvat in an email to FNB organizer Keith McHenry. “For these reasons, the City deems your use of Lot 27 to be a public nuisance and illegal under both the penal code and the municipal code.”
City Lot 27, at the northeast corner at Front Street and Laurel Street, has been home to FNB’s operation for the past week, after relocating from its previous site at Lot 23 across the street. FNB was initially forced from Lot 23 to relocate on Feb. 17 after a representative from Anton DevCo instructed them to move immediately in preparation for a new housing development.
After discussions with Anton DevCo representatives about concerns over moving the shipping container and Anton DevCo’s threats to involve police, FNB organizer Keith McHenry relented, citing the need to keep serving meals.
Representatives from Anton DevCo did not respond to City on a Hill Press’s request for comment.
These moves were the second and third times that FNB, which has served free meals daily since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, has been forced to relocate in the last six months. Since October, FNB had been stationed at Lot 23 after a notice from City Manager Martín Bernal forced them to move from their previous location at Lot 27. After last week’s instruction to clear Lot 23, the operation moved back to Lot 27, where they received their most recent notice to vacate.
“They did not wait for confirmation from the city or any sort of permission from the city to go back to Lot 27. They shouldn’t have gone back there in the first place,” said city communications manager Elizabeth Smith. “We would have told them not to do that, had they been in conversation.”
For FNB volunteer Zoe-Manon LeCheminant, the whole ordeal was shocking because of FNB contributions to the houseless community.
“I was pretty surprised that it was happening because the city told us to move to [Lot 23]. Then just to say, ‘Oh, you have to move,’ was a little surprising,” LeCheminant said. “And I think it’s also concerning, considering that they can just move us whenever, especially in this time where people are really using [FNB services]. We’ve seen a lot of people come since the pandemic started so it’s just concerning to not feel secure in one spot.”
In the same email that informed them of their removal from Lot 27, the City offered FNB a free permit to relocate their operation to San Lorenzo Park. However, McHenry is opposed to the offer, citing potential COVID-19 risks with the addition of people to San Lorenzo Park, the potential decline of visibility there, and the instability tied to a city permit.
“If a city can give you permission, they can take it away. Sharing free food is an unregulated act of kindness and love, so the City has no actual say in this,” McHenry said. “We are helping people, and they don’t get to tell us when to do it, where to do it, why to do it. If they want to do it, they can do it. But they’re not doing it. So we’re doing it.”
McHenry said FNB has yet to decide on a course of action. The organization plans to meet to discuss all options, which include either complying with the City’s demands and moving to San Lorenzo Park, or resisting.