Charges Dropped Against Woman for Front Yard Vegetable Garden
Yay! Victory! Time Magazine Reports:
Bureaucrats-run-amok saga in Oak Park, Mich., in which a woman faced jail time for planting a veggie garden in her front yard, is over for the time being. After news of the case went viral and the city was hammered with negative publicity, officials suddenly dropped the charges filed against the woman, Julie Bass, for purportedly violating city codes.
According to the Detroit News, city officials dropped the charges without giving Bass a head’s up. She found out about the change of heart from the courts. Her lawyer, Solomon Radner, offered one theory explaining Oak Park’s actions:
“Charges are dropped for the time being,” Radner said. “Based on the games the city has been playing, I would not put it past them to drop the charges just to get the media off their back.”
The city is still pursuing charges against Bass for failure to have a dog license, even though the Basses have since gotten the necessary licenses. The charges related to the dog license, like the charges for violating codes with an “unsuitable” front yard, carry a maximum sentence of 93 days in jail.
Meanwhile, at the Oak Park Hates Veggies Facebook page, which was created to support the Basses and has generated support from around the world (over 29,000 “likes”), attention has been called to another case in which someone is being persecuted for growing vegetables on his property. Dirk Becker, who transformed a dilapidated 2.5-acre lot in Lantzville, British Columbia, into an urban agriculture producer dubbed Compassion Farm, has been ordered to cease operations of the farm because of zoning regulations.
This Story From ABC Back in July of 2011
Julie Bass faces the prospect of going to jail for what she's growing in her front yard.
The illegal growth is tomatoes. And zucchinis, peppers and other edible and what normally would be legal plants.
The officials in Bass' hometown of Oak Park, Mich., have charged her with growing "vegetable garden in front yard space." If convicted, she could spend up to 93 days in jail.
Bass said that the criminal charge "blew my mind." "Sometimes we laugh because it seems so silly and sometimes we cry because it's so pathetic. A lot of times it does not seem real," she told ABCNews.com.
Bass has insisted on a jury trial and a pre-trial hearing is set for July 26. If the case goes to court Bass' attorney Solomon Radner does not believe that a jury will convict his client of a crime.
"Michelle Obama plants vegetables on White House front lawn. I don't think the jury is going to think that it's suitable for the White House, but it's not suitable for Oak Park," said Radner.
The first lady's office, which is encouraging growing fresh vegetables to help fight childhood obesity, declined to comment on the Oak Park vegetable case.
Bass got the idea to plant a garden in front yard after it was torn up over a busted sewage pipe.
"There were piles of dirt outside and we knew we had to do something," Bass said. "We looked into putting in sod but it was shockingly expensive, so we starting looking into other books to do something a little more cost effective. We found pictures in a bunch of different library books of garden beds. It was perfect and we had a blank canvas."
Front Yard Vegetable Garden Called a Crime
In May, Bass started planting green tomatoes, zucchini and baby peppers among other vegetables, in five large, decorative planter boxes in the family's front yard. She claims that she sought and received approval from both neighbors and city officials in her Detroit suburb.
Oak Park's Planning and Technology director Kevin Rulkowski told ABC News affiliate WXYZ, "I told her don't do it, and she went ahead and did it anyway."
Bass said that Rulkowski's claims are "completely not true." She said, "He told me that he found out that we couldn't put fences around the front of the property, but he wasn't able to find anything specific to vegetables…He said the city allows decorative plantings."
According to Bass,the family hired professionals to make the planter boxes, bought tomato trellises, paving stones and a swing at a cost of over $500.
"What I understood is that they wanted something that would look nice," Bass said. "We thought that if we do it in a nice orderly way, we could make it pretty and aesthetically pleasing."
An Oak Park city councilman allegedly received two complaints about the garden resembling a "New Orleans cemetery." After an initial warning, Oak Park code enforcement officer Kevin Jones issued Bass a citation on June 8 for growing a vegetable garden on the front yard of her own property.
"At first we just thought the city was trying to bully us into backing down," Bass said. "There are people all over the city of Oak Park have planter boxes."
The Oak Park city screening and landscaping ordinance states, "All unpaved portions of the [screening and landscaping] site shall be planted with grass ground cover, shrubbery, or other suitable live plant material."
The debate is over what is "suitable."
"If you look at the dictionary, suitable means common. You can look all throughout the city and you'll never find another vegetable garden that consumes the entire front yard," Rulkowski told ABC affiliate WXYZ.
Radner disagrees. "Suitable does not have any meaning," he said. "What one person may think is pretty or suitable another person may think is terribly ugly or not suitable. That's why I think this prosecution is unconstitutional."
Radner also pointed to an exception listed in the city ordinance that specifically allows vegetablegardens: "Exempted from the provisions of this article, inclusive, are flower gardens, plots of shrubbery, vegetable gardens and small grain plots."
"You can't make this stuff up," Radner said.
~We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. — That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, — That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness. Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shewn that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed. But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security. — Such has been the patient sufferance of these Colonies; and such is now the necessity which constrains them to alter their former Systems of Government. The history of the present King of Great Britain is a history of repeated injuries and usurpations, all having in direct object the establishment of an absolute Tyranny over these States. To prove this, let Facts be submitted to a candid world. Excerpt from The Declaration of Independence.
As much as every attorney, every judge, every city council man or woman should have this memorized and taken to heart from all those years of study, abuse of power and opression placed on individuals exercising their freedoms in this country need to be addressed. It is up to the people of each town and community to get involved in their local government and hold them accountable to what is good and what is just. Never let the making of money or the lining of pockets be a motive that eeks into a government, or you will find one that becomes corrupted. If there is a law that is antiquated, it should be re-evaluated regularly. Old laws on the books without a re-evaluation and purging system are a sign of a slow moving, poorly managed governance. Government is always to be an expense to maintain structure, and not a business to be run profitably. If someone is to earn a bonus, it should be based on the satisfaction of its citizens and commendation, and not by penalizing by fines. ~David Webster
Photo Credit: Julie Bass