Oak Park MI Front yard garden persecution

phillycook(6)July 10, 2011

So, after their front yard was torn up for a new sewer line Julie Bass of Oak Park, MI, very close to Detroit, put in a raised bed vegetable garden instead of grass.

Now the city - in the person of Planning and Technology Director Kevin Rulkowski - has ticketed her, and is threatening to put her in jail for 90 days because of the tomatoes on her front "lawn".

She has a Facebook page - Oak Park Hates Veggies.

And a blog - http://oakparkhatesveggies.wordpress.com/

Here's another link. http://www.theagitator.com/2011/07/07/does-michelle-obama-know-about-this/

If I had a front garden here in Philly, I'd be growing veg as well.

Here is a link that might be useful: Oak Park Hates Veggies blog

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There was a thread about this in Hot Topics, yesterday. It seems senseless, doesn't it? I have two tomatoes and a pepper plant in my front garden; so far, nobody has complained.

    Bookmark   July 10, 2011 at 3:10PM
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Its an attack of the anal-lawn-police. Remember Traute and her ordeal with the lawn police? It didnt end well either. I allow the clover to grow just to annoy my anal-lawn neightbors. Also have assorted veggies growing between the flowers. People really need to get over this obsession with lawns.

    Bookmark   July 10, 2011 at 3:15PM
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Yes, there's a thread over on Hot Topics that's worth checking out. There's also a picture of the yard. It is neatly done.... BUT, (and here is the problem as I see it) if she can do it, so can everyone else. And, let's face it, not everyone will be as neat and careful as she is.

For example, where would you draw the line? If she can do this much, can her neighbor have a load of manure dumped out front so she can do the same? If you had a lot of yard space, what's wrong with getting a mechanical plow and parking it near the curb?

But, the main thing in this case was that she was told 'no' and she did it anyhow.

now, there are lawns and there are also eyesores. I think the neighbors have a right to try and keep the neighborhood looking neat and tidy. If everyone does what they want....it won't stay neat and tidy long. Some people just don't care.

However, I would love a garden spot like that!!

    Bookmark   July 10, 2011 at 3:33PM
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natal(Louisiana 8b)

But, the main thing in this case was that she was told 'no' and she did it anyhow.

That's up for dispute. In one video clip the city planner claims her told her no upfront ... in another not a word. Julie claims she was told they didn't have an answer one way or the other when she initially inquired.

In this clip most of her neighbors seem to appreciate what she's doing.

news clip

Here is a link that might be useful: Julie Bass

    Bookmark   July 10, 2011 at 5:54PM
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hmmmm, I can see then, why there is a dispute about this.
It's a case of what is too much. And, no one wants to back down.

A good example of 'He said, she said" problem.

    Bookmark   July 10, 2011 at 6:54PM
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Somehow, I don't think this issue is about tomato plants. What else is going on?

    Bookmark   July 11, 2011 at 7:45PM
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Stuff like this makes me go "heavy sigh....."

My disclaimer: I didn't spend hours of my life researching zoning laws or HOA laws for this woman's neighborhood. It might make a difference in my take on the issue. But somehow I doubt it.

I'm fairly sensitive to rules and regulations because I live in a 420-unit condo building on half a block in a major metropolitan area. There are rules for everything. Because...can you imagine what chaos there would be, if everyone decided to do their own thing?

Presumably there are laws against having front-yard gardens in her neighborhood or this woman wouldn't have been ticketed. That seems pretty cut and dried to me. Break the law, pay the price.

Don't like the rules? Run for the board, or for city council or whatever governing body sets the rules, and work to have them changed. But don't assume nobody will notice if you do something that is against the rules. Somebody ALWAYS notices!!! And why do you think you are so different or special that you should be excepted from your town's laws???

/end of rant


    Bookmark   July 12, 2011 at 9:52AM
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Tiffany, purpleinopp GardenWeb, Z8b Opp, AL(8B AL)

I read this appalling story and watched the news video a few days ago and it's since been on my mind a lot. Aren't we at war? Isn't this a victory garden?

How is her garden any different than a fruit tree in a front yard? Or a pecan tree? A grape arbor? A few basil or chive plants between the lollipop shrubs? What if she plants sunflowers to eat the seeds? Will we start looking at motives next?

The disconnect between people and nature/food over the last century is scary and I'm glad this story has brought the issue to light for discussion. I also don't understand the desire for "sameness" that seems so prevalent in neighborhoods. What's wrong with being different and interesting - as long as it's "tidy?"

Wages do not keep pace with inflation and it's riduculous to try to stop anyone from feeding their family by growing food on their own property that they paid for and pay taxes for. This mentality that it's unsightly to grow food crops is ridiculous and I've never understood it. There seems to be a thread of "why can't you afford to buy your chemically poisoned food at the grocery store like us?" Would it be preferable if she goes to get food stamps? I'm not saying this particular woman from this story is in that position but a lot of people are. They aren't amusing themselves, they're trying to have food to eat and instead of asking for help, or more help, they're using their land to help themselves.

I didn't see any weeds and it looks very tidy. I know most municipalities have regulations against weeds over a certain height, certain types of weeds growing at all, and against having a junk yard in your yard. An ordinance against industrial/farming equipment and work trucks is also common. She is not doing any of that. The problem must then be a prejudice against *certain* food crops. If that's not it, then it's against using *certain materials* to build a garden bed. All I can see is wood. I'm sure MANY of her neighbors have beds and walkways bordered by wood.

What are people thinking when they make a law against growing a veggie garden? Please tell me if you can. I can't get there on my own.

The city official didn't even say there's a law against a veggie garden. He said the law said "suitable" which he said was defined as "common" in the dictionary. I looked at dictionary.com and didn't find the word "common" at all. It defines suitable as "appropriate; fitting; becoming." This garden is completely appropriate, fitting, and becoming for a family and especially during a recession and while we are at war.

Loved the poem, btw...

    Bookmark   July 12, 2011 at 11:11AM
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Those of us with property and gardens just look at this kind of thing and cringe because it goes against the way we visualize our own gardening. However,I agree with Karen.If you know the rules and think you can break them and might be an exception and maybe change things..fine. Do it. But to get your panties in a twist because you were caught and had to pay the price is childish. It reminds me of people who move into a development and then want to change all the rules after the fact if there is a homeowners organization.

    Bookmark   July 12, 2011 at 12:03PM
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'Don't like the rules? Run for the board, or for city council or whatever governing body sets the rules, and work to have them changed.'

It isn't that simple, I'm afraid. Especially if your community has been designated economically depressed, as I am assuming suburbs of Detroit must be. Since I live in in what is legally defined an Appalachian county, I know first hand that can open the doors to grant monies. To get them, somebody has to submit their visions of how that money be used to stimulate the economy and create jobs. It sounds like a nobel cause. But to those ends, entities have been created to 'fast-track' these changes by not having to deal with the traditional checks and balances strictly municipal bodies provide. Their possible exemption from sunshine laws (some take and some don't, it's legally ambiguous), and the power that deep pockets of tax monies provide make it very difficult for any individual (or even residential area)to challenge and may or may not reflect the common desires. Itis very difficult to extract information from these entities if they don't want to give it to you and are not legally required to divulge it without taking it to a court. Do you see where I'm headed?

A situation happened like that in a municipality nearby involving several residential sectors. I really don't want to go into any details, but the plans were unpopular, had astounding impact and it appeared there was no traditional redress to those who would be affected. It took the pro bono efforts of an outside group (with the support of the residents involved) to stop the steam rollers. It was an interesting scenario to watch and a learning experience about what people consider rights and where they decide to draw the lines in the sand.

I'm satisfied to see it go to jury trial because that decision will be made by her peers. I think all involved are satisfied with that solution. In this case, the system is working as it should.

    Bookmark   July 12, 2011 at 12:52PM
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I spent several hours researching this last night and it appears the lady involved did seek permission before she planted the garden and the answer given did not preclude that she could. It appears the permission was ambiguous and I might add sometimes codes are ambiguous to give the issuers an after the fact choice of how they should be interpreted. It is the responsibility of any entity who writes a law or code to ensure it's legal, understandable, concise and enforceable. If it isn't......it needs to be challenged in order to be clarified. Thank god for that option.

    Bookmark   July 12, 2011 at 1:02PM
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natal(Louisiana 8b)

Karen, nothing "cut and dried" about it. Nothing on the books. She asked first. Wasn't until afterward that feathers got ruffled.

    Bookmark   July 12, 2011 at 1:26PM
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'Don't like the rules? Run for the board, or for city council or whatever governing body sets the rules, and work to have them changed.'

It isn't that simple, I'm afraid.

I never said it was easy, suzy. Life isn't easy (well duh). We have to pick our battles or we'll be exhausted by noon every. single. day.

Aren't there any alternatives whatsoever? Is it the end of the world as she knows it, if she doesn't have a front-yard garden? What about container gardening on her back deck? Her kitchen windows? A community garden? A friend's yard or garden in another neighborhood? It's just a matter of how creative she wants to get, in light of the opposition in her own neighborhood.

But if this woman want a garden in her front yard, it looks like she'd better be ready to fight for it. The opposing forces (they of the ruffled feathers) seem determined to win.

I don't think I'd have that kind of energy. But if Front-yard Garden Woman does, then she should get organized politically and DO it.

    Bookmark   July 12, 2011 at 3:56PM
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natal(Louisiana 8b)

It's just a matter of how creative she wants to get, in light of the opposition in her own neighborhood.

From the videos I've seen the majority of her neighbors aren't opposed.

    Bookmark   July 12, 2011 at 4:28PM
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Such a violation of the king and castle school of thought. Anal retentive bean counters should not rule the world.

Just sayin' and no reflection on any who have already posted.

    Bookmark   July 12, 2011 at 4:34PM
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Oh Karen.......I don't know if I'd pick that battle either and that's why I said each of us has to make a decision where to stand and how much effort they're willing to expend to dig into their trenches. I try to not get knee jerk reactions to any news story where there may be an agenda involved until I explore the realities, if there is any way that can be done. And to me that means whether I like it or not to explore the views of both sides of an issue. You really can't be fair until you do.

It took a couple hours of my time and my time is valuable. That's an issue anymore, people are not wanting to use their own time to explore issues.......it's too easy to pick a political slant and listen to their interpretations and accept it. It's also hard to depend on media anymore to be objective about how news like is might be reported, so even so called 'facts' are often twisted just a tad.

We can't assume a lot of things, and one of them is that that code even existed when they decided to move to that location. We can't assume that the code isn't enforced by a single entity who is NOT elected but hired. All of the articles I've read to date whether they're accurate or not imply it is a single person who is the visionary and the enforcer. I went to this lady's blog and she was most kind about this man. No rancor at all.....and she asked that people respect his stance. That sounded pretty fair to me and not at all like a person with an agenda, other than to be treated fairly. We don't know if the code is selectively enforced either. And what really made me uncomfortable is on this community's website, which I also read, they boasted about community diversity and how valuable an asset that is. Well, there are all sorts of diversity, and having a 'vision' that all front yards must be only lawn and trees isn't exactly an example of being tolerant of diversity. Everyone has their own ideas of what the definition of diversity is.

I swing all over the spectrum on my policital views and have been known to have very ambivalent attitudes about many things. The one issue I get very narrow minded about is proper procedural process and the protection it provides and how many really sloppy laws/codes/regulations are enacted and never challenged until somebody has to push the judicial process. We spend a lot of time remediating sloppy restrictions when it's easy to do it right the first time around. Even the tiniest villages hire solicitors who render opinions on them if consulted first. If this goes to trial, it'll be through a criminal court system, not civil and the prosecutors are drawing a salary anyway and if the lady is found guilty of a misdemeanor, she'll have to bear the cost of the trial expenses. The only burden for financial strain really lays on her shoulders if she isn't insolvent. That's why I'm not flipped out over this, because she'll be judged by other people in her own community who are also subjected to the same laws. What they decide is going to be best for their particular community and when it comes down to an individual's private property, that's appropriate.

As far as regulations for the public good........a necessary restriction. However, that doesn't mean one slowly has to turn over every choice to that end. It is quite possible to turn the human race into an ant colony with the benefit of the colony as the only objective.

    Bookmark   July 12, 2011 at 5:28PM
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I find this thread very interesting and informative. Having had my own issues with city government over the years and have worked with my neighbors to change things by getting together and going to the local officials, we've been able to change things.
According to the Oak Park MI page, the city manager is listed as:

Rick Fox

City of Oak Park
13600 Oak Park Boulevard
Oak Park, MI 48237

Mon -Thur 8am-5pm

Tel: 248 691-7410
Fax: 248 691-7171
Notice that the city page does not list an email for the city manager.

Here is a link that might be useful:

    Bookmark   July 12, 2011 at 8:08PM
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    Bookmark   July 12, 2011 at 8:44PM
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natal(Louisiana 8b)

Charges were dropped. ;)

Here is a link that might be useful: charges dropped

    Bookmark   July 15, 2011 at 4:49PM
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