The Finance/Policy Committee of the City of San Ramon’s Parks & Community Services Commission met with a handful of local community gardeners on Tuesday, September 16, 2008 to give them the bad news about some rather drastic changes they propose to make at Crow Canyon Community Gardens, one of the more significant green activities existing today in San Ramon.
Beautiful and historic Crow Canyon Community Gardens, located at 105 Park Place in San Ramon, have flourished since 1990 when land to be used for this specific community purpose was conveyed to the city by Virginia Mudd, founder of the nearby Mudd’s Restaurant. These somewhat eclectic, traditionally organic, gardens are located in a tranquil, off the beaten path, heavily wooded nature area that has given immense joy and a deep appreciation of nature to hundreds of Bay Area families for many years. For a wonderful and colorful history of these magnificent gardens please go to Mudd's Restaurant History Page.
Community gardeners at Crow Canyon Gardens include individuals and families from all walks of life-- professionals, academics, blue collar workers, retired persons-- and represent a collection of cultures as diverse as the community of San Ramon itself. Some of the non-resident gardeners work in San Ramon and temper their commutes by unwinding in their garden plots. Many gardeners involve their children in witnessing nature’s magical processes first hand – some include their grandchildren.
The policy changes now being imposed represent the culmination of an ongoing battle the City has waged against its community gardeners for more than a decade. The conflict between the two sides is a basic one: Which is more important? Continued expansion of the City’s tax base through increased development or providing an opportunity for people to enjoy the quiet comforts and rewards of green, organic gardening. Clearly, San Ramon has chosen to expand through increased development.
The protracted, adversarial relationship between the City and the gardeners has taken a heavy toll. Many gardeners who just wanted to till their gardens in peace and enjoy the fruits of their labor have grown tired of the City’s persistent, negative treatment and are giving up their plots.
Under its latest policies, among other things, the City proposes to destroy twenty individual garden plots that have been under constant cultivation from the very beginning of Crow Canyon Gardens. Each of these individual plots represent thousands of hours of loving, but demanding physical labor and cash outlays of hundreds of dollars by gardeners over the years. The City now demands that these twenty garden plots be destroyed. Fences, arbors, trellises, planting beds and all plant support structures must be removed by this coming December. Valuable, rich and productive top soil will be lost forever when it is bulldozed over.
According to Jeff Eorio, Director of the San Ramon Parks & Community Services Department, the space occupied by the twenty garden plots is needed by the City for expanded youth activities. This will apparently result in increased revenues for the City.
One might think the existing 425 acres of current park space in San Ramon would be sufficient for its youth activities, but the City doesn’t agree. It wants the less than 1 acre of land now occupied by these 20 community garden plots brought into the park fold.
Over the years, gardeners have come to realize that San Ramon pays lip service to but places no real value on community gardening. At every meeting with the gardeners, the City reiterates its intention to eliminate what it describes as an “eyesore” or “hodge-podge” of visually diverse, individual community gardens and says it wants to achieve greater uniformity or evenness within the area. City representatives assert they have received complaints about the lack of a pristine, consistent, homogeneous appearance of the gardens. When pressed, however, they confess such complaints have only been verbal, and not in large numbers.
As one community gardener succinctly described the situation, “The City wants to take away the basic uniqueness of the individual gardeners from our community.”
The present Parks & Community Services Commission sees no redeeming value to having a “green” activity like organic gardening in San Ramon, and does not perceive any tangible benefit derived from the local production of an estimated 15,000 pounds of fresh, organic vegetables each and every year for the nourishment of gardeners, their friends and neighbors, and the Food Bank of Contra Costa & Solano, a regular recipient of the gardener’s produce.
The gardeners suspect the absence of any actual gardeners on the Parks & Community Services Commission is a major problem for them. Even so, the persistent anti-green, anti-gardening posture of the Commission seems rather surprising in this enlightened age of universal environmental concerns and an ever-expanding affinity for “earth-friendly” types of activities. Their posture is consistent, however, with the “growth at any cost, more plastic and chrome” direction the City of San Ramon is heading.
To demonstrate San Ramon’s historically negative bias against community gardening, the gardeners point to a checkered litany of actions (and inactions) the City has taken:
- Raising the current Garden Allotment Fee from $50.00 to $138.00 per year. [This proposed new fee amounts to an increase of 275% and is three times the national average garden allotment fee.]
- ]Raising the current deposit fee from $60.00 to $150.00. [This proposed new deposit represents an increase of 250% and is fifteen times the national average deposit fee.]
- Scheduling meetings of critical importance to the gardens with only 24 hours advance notice to the gardeners - and then holding those meetings at times and locations logistically inconvenient to most gardeners.
- Granting garden plots to new families over the past year but not informing these new gardeners of the City’s imminent plan to take over those same plots in less than a year. The significant time and money investment made by these new gardeners on their plots, especially in these tough economic times, could have been avoided if the City had just been honest with them.
- Routinely opposing the gardeners’ use of metal stakes and fence wire around their individual plots - but employing the exact materials, in the same manner, at the immediately adjacent City-operated gardens.
- Forcing several gardeners to give up garden plots they had tilled for many years because they shared the same last name of a related gardener, despite the fact the relatives were adults and they maintained separate San Ramon households!
- Failing to honor commitments repeatedly made to gardeners such as: Identifying a permanent city employee to interface with the gardeners; installing a bulletin board at the gardens; allowing gardeners to access a portion of the City’s Web site; and working closely with the Gardeners Committee on any proposed changes to garden policies. None of the above promises were kept.
According to one departing CCG gardener who has decided he’s had quite enough of San Ramon’s shabby garden politics, “I have gardened on community plots for eight years in three different cities and this experience has been the toughest.”
The Finance/Policy Committee plans to present their final policy recommendations to the full Parks & Community Services Commission at a public meeting to be held on October 8, 2008. The City indicated they would mail all Crow Canyon Gardeners a timely copy of their final policy recommendations and timely official notice of the full commission meeting.
The community gardeners plan to enlist the support of the Bay Area gardening public and appear in significant numbers at the October 8th meeting to express their opinions. Readers who wish to attend this meeting are welcome and email or written correspondence to San Ramon city officials is encouraged.
For more information or to interview individual Crow Canyon community gardeners contact:
Crow Canyon Gardens
Contact: James R. Conner
Local Food Bank Pick Ups
Food bank truck picks up the vegetables.