Beach Flats Gardeners Demand City Council Keep Their Promise

[ Beach Flats Gardeners, including Don Emilio Martinez Castañeda (left) who has been cultivating in the garden since it began over twenty five years ago, lead the march up Pacific Avenue and they cross Laurel Street in downtown Santa Cruz. April 26, 2016. ]

Is the City of Santa Cruz Really Committed to the Beach Flats Neighborhood?

Gardeners and Supporters March on City Hall Demanding that Council Follow Through With Previous Commitment to Purchase Land

On April 26 the Santa Cruz City Council gave their six-month report on the progress of the City’s efforts to acquire the property containing the Beach Flats Community Garden. At the meeting, the City Council agreed to a three year lease for the garden. However Josh Brahinsky of the Beach Flats Garden Coalition points out, "The lease only covers 60% of the previous garden, and has a 60 day escape clause for Seaside Company, and thus does not provide long-term security for the garden."

Students at UC Santa Cruz advocating for the gardeners and the garden declare, "It is time to turn up the heat! The city broke their agreements about protecting the garden, both in terms of space promised, and a bunch of trees and cactus that were demolished during Spring Break."

A coalition of over 150 gardeners, Beach Flats residents, students, and community members marched from the Beach Flats Garden to City Hall and delivered clear messages during the council meeting. Gardeners and supporters called on Council to follow through with a previous council resolution that stated the city was committed to acquiring the Beach Flats Garden property. Gardeners and Beach Flats Coalition members also demanded accountability for the City's recent use of heavy machinery to clear mature fruit trees and perennials from a large portion of the garden.

As marchers rallied in front of O'Neill on Pacific Avenue, Santa Cruz City Councilmember Micah Posner, invoking presidential candidate Bernie Sanders, called for eminent domain for the Beach Flats Community Garden. "Bernie is fighting Wall Street. Here we are fighting Beach Street." The Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk, owned by the Seaside Company, is located on Beach Street.

In a comment on photos and video of the march published to Indybay, a commenter writes, "It's great to see people come together (again) against strong local powers trying to dominate their lives and public space. Unfortunately, as a viewer watching the proceedings (circus) last night via live stream I was struck by how seemingly contemptuous most of Santa Cruz City Council was to last night's speakers and the issue being brought forth."

Councilmember Posner's proposal for eminent domain failed to gain any traction at the meeting from fellow councilmembers. The commenter continues:

Micah raised the realistic issue of possibly having to use eminent domain to gain that property from the Seaside Company and of course NO ONE, not even supposedly liberal Don Lane or the joke of a progressive Cynthia Chase, would even second his motion so that it at least merited a deeper discussion/debate. Basically Seaside Company's ass was kissed ... again.

March on October 27, 2015 from Beach Flats Community Garden to Santa Cruz City Council. A sign says, "La tierra es de quien la trabaja. The land belongs to those who work it."
March on October 27, 2015 from Beach Flats Community Garden to Santa Cruz City Council. A sign says, "La tierra es de quien la trabaja. The land belongs to those who work it."

During an emotional council meeting on October 27, 2015 attended by hundreds of garden supporters, the City Council voted unanimously to support the creation of a permanent garden owned by the City, on the site of the current Beach Flats Community Garden. Council directed city staff to “negotiate with the goal of acquisition of the current Beach Flats Garden property,” even going so far as to identify funding sources.

This decision, along with other promises made to the gardeners of fences, a bathroom, various other garden improvements, and careful treatment of mature plants has not been realized.

On March 24, City of Santa Cruz parks officials used heavy machinery to clear a portion of the Beach Flats Garden that the Seaside Company is attempting to reclaim. They carelessly removed mature fruit trees and perennials, disregarding the agreements Seaside representatives and City officials had made with the gardeners.

Beach Flats Community Garden. Destroyed by City of Santa Cruz Parks and Recreation on behalf of Santa Cruz Seaside Company / Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk. Photos by Jasper Lyons (September 2015) and Joe Bonanno (March 24, 2016).
Beach Flats Community Garden. Destroyed by City of Santa Cruz Parks and Recreation on behalf of Santa Cruz Seaside Company / Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk. Photos by Jasper Lyons (September 2015) and Joe Bonanno (March 24, 2016).

Speaking at the April 26 rally in front of O'Neill, Brahinsky, an Anthropology as well as History of Consciousness graduate student at UCSC and an American Studies faculty member at SJSU, shared his experience knocking on doors in the Beach Flats neighborhood and listening to community members explain the garden's importance and significance in their lives.

Brahinsky proclaims, "As a rare bit of green space in a community chock full of concrete, and as a center for local community and food security for the poorest neighborhood in Santa Cruz, this garden is crucial to the well being of the Beach Flats community and needs to be made permanent."

The struggles continues, as the gardeners and community continue to call for the preservation and purchase of the entire Beach Flats Garden.

The Beach Flats Garden Coalition asserts, "We will keep fighting until 100% of the Beach Flats Garden is returned to the care of the jardíneros of the Beach Flats neighborhood, to whom it belongs. All 26,000 square feet—or more."

The following text promoting a demonstration on May 1, 2016 comes from a flyer distributed during the April 26 march from the Beach Flats Community Garden to Santa Cruz City Hall.

May Day: March for Food Justice

In solidarity with the Beach Flats Jardín & Familias Unidas por la Justicia.

May 1, 2016
Gather 11am @ City Hall
809 Center St, Santa Cruz, CA

In Santa Cruz, the jardíneros of the Beach Flats Community Garden are at risk of losing long-cultivated subsistence farming space due to the profit-motivated actions of the Seaside (Boardwalk) Company. The City of Santa Cruz promised to seek acquisition of the land for a permanent garden, yet instead of negotiating with Seaside on behalf of the community, they recently bulldozed and fenced off 40% of the garden to facilitate Seaside's agenda of seizing back the land.

In Washington and Baja California, Mesoamerican Indigenous farmworkers have organized independent unions, calling for an international boycott of Santa Cruz County based Driscoll's Berries. As they fight to end poverty wages, slave-like working and living conditions, child labor and violent repression of their movement, they also envision a reorganization of food systems based on workers cooperatives, sustainable relationships with land, and economies structured around needs rather than profit.

In the spirit of International Workers Day, let's join together to express our solidarity with these pivotal struggles, alongside our own dreams for a different kind of world not based on capitalist exploitation.

For more information:

Save the Beach Flats Garden!
Boycott Driscoll's Berries!

Previous coverage of the movement to Save the Beach Flats Community Garden: