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Indybay Feature

Eminent Domain for the Gardeners

by Steve Pleich
Progressive Council Could Support Civil Action
Although the City of Santa Cruz has now entered into a three-year lease with the Seaside Company to provide for the continuance of the Beach Flats Community Garden, the joy of the gardeners and their supporters is less than full for several good reasons. First, the agreed upon footprint of the garden is 10,000 square feet less than the original plot; a 40% reduction. Secondly, the three year lease is at best a temporary solution that will have to be revisited at some near point. And third, the dollar a year lease can be terminated by the Seaside Company at any time on 9O days notice adding an element of impermanency to an already unacceptably uncertain future. The Seaside Company could be moved by an appeal to the better angels of its nature and cede the entire 26,000 square foot garden space to the gardeners in perpetuity but no one is holding their breath hoping that will happen. So how can we create a permanent Community Garden in Beach Flats? The simple answer is through the legal doctrine of eminent domain.

For some time, the possibility of invoking eminent domain has been privately discussed and at least one current council member has come out in favor of this approach. Indeed, the City Attorney has publicly stated that it is reasonably likely that the city could make the legal showings of public purpose, public good and necessity that are required by California Code of Civil Procedure 1240 to obtain a favorable court judgment . But here's the rub. Any such action must be initiated by the city council and although Santa Cruz Municipal Code Section 12.32 does provide for some streamlining and fast tracking of such an action, a majority of the present council would have to vote in favor of a resolution which would direct the City Attorney to commence the civil suit. Without speaking for anyone other than myself, I have serious doubts about such a majority vote coming from our present council composition.

There are, of course other elements to the discussion about how to create a permanent community garden in Beach Flats. I have made the suggestion that the current site of the Kaiser Arena may be an alternative that could considered. The city was able to skirt full environmental and coastal review for construction of the arena because it was classified as a "temporary" structure. The building must be torn down in three years, coincidentally the same time frame as the new lease extension. Although not an ideal site, it would be a signature location for a community garden that should be a shining and visible jewel of our entire community. It is also a large enough parcel to accommodate all of the gardeners. However, that being said, the invocation of a civil action for eminent domain to acquire the property at the present location remains the first, best option.

This and other ideas should and must be part of the community conversation moving forward. The gardeners need our support if a permanent location for this cherished resource is to be created. I will shortly be announcing my candidacy for city council and the gardeners have and will continue to have my full support. But one or even two affirmative votes will not be enough. Electing a progressive majority to our city council will be a major step toward insuring that future generations can participate in and enjoys the fruits of a community garden.

Something for all of us to consider between now and November.
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John Cohen-Colby
Sat, Apr 30, 2016 7:44PM
Thu, Apr 28, 2016 11:22AM
Steve Pleich
Thu, Apr 28, 2016 11:03AM
John Cohen-Colby
Wed, Apr 27, 2016 10:50PM
Wed, Apr 27, 2016 9:37PM
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