During the past month, debate over the legality of planting vegetables in public, residential parkways was raging once again in Los Angeles. The Los Angeles Times reported on the battle between two urban farmers and the city government, which demanded the gardeners uproot their edible landscapes, even threatening the gardeners with expensive citations. The urban farmers, backed by City Council President Herb Wesson and the local media, fought back. The end result: they finally got the city council to abandon its outdated approach and stop fining them. Patch.com reports that the city council has just agreed to let the parkways become edible.
Abbie Zands of the Los Feliz neighborhood and Angel Teger of South Los Angeles “planted lush vegetable gardens in front of their homes.” Zands recently planted three raised vegetable beds in his yard. The boxes are just 18 inches high, within a reasonable distance from the curb and serve the community. He said he is “teaching his children how to grow food [and] sharing the harvest with neighbors.”
Then, according to the LA Times, “Zands got a notice in the mail last month from the Bureau of Street Services ordering him to remove [his] vegetable beds.” Sounded pretty criminal.
Clare Fox of the L.A. Food Policy Council admits that the city’s restrictions were not entirely without merit. “She can understand the need to restrict growth” in situations that “hinder the view of drivers or blocks the light of street lamps,” for example. However, in this case, city officials explained that the citation reflects a matter of liability, stating that “if you slip and trip on the eggplant, you can sue the city.” The article suggests that there was a bigger liability issue left unattended in these “parkway” strips—technically owned by the city, such as ruptured sidewalks and other hazards caused by poor maintenance.
The debate has been going on for a while now. A few years ago, a similar situation happened to Ron Finley, an urban farmer who faced a warrant to remove edible plants set within a 150-foot-long parkways in his neighborhood. Then, Councilman Herb Wesson took the gardener’s side, introducing a motion to allow parkway vegetable gardens.
According to Patch.com, it took Wesson two years but he finally won. With the 15-0 vote in support of immediately suspend enforcement, urban farmers across the city can now move forward, at least until a “new ‘comprehensive report’ on a new ordinance and a permitting process is prepared.” Westside Councilman Mike Bonin said “he supports the vegetable gardens because Los Angeles has a ‘wellness crisis’ and not enough access to healthy food.”
L.A. seems to be finally catching up to the agricultural revolution currently sweeping America’s cities. In March, Detroit adopted their first urban agriculture zoning ordinance to promote urban farming within their communities. New York, Chicago, San Francisco, and other cities are also far along.
In a time where one-fourth of all agricultural land is seriously degraded and some 49 million Americans experience food insecurity, cities all across the country need to put stronger support toward turning untapped land into urban gardens instead of blurring the line between true liability concerns and outdated bureaucratic rule-making.
Learn more about how urban agriculture can work in The Edible City, a recent ASLA animation.
This guest post is by Phil Stamper, ASLA PR and Communications Coordinator
Image credit: Los Angeles Times