Urban gardeners versus zoning laws
Urban green thumbs who want to raise livestock or grow vegetables for sale are being thwarted by unhappy neighbors and zoning laws.
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In middle-class areas, concerns about property values and aesthetic differences lead to conflicts.Skip to next paragraph
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Kolla alienated neighbors on her quiet cul-de-sac of Spanish bungalows and neat green lawns in the city's Silver Lake section when she began peddling organic bouquets at farmers' markets that she grew on her 21,000 square-foot lot.
"They're trying to grow it into something bigger than what should be in a small neighborhood," says Frank San Juan, who lives across the street from Kolla. "When she started having these gardening workshops without telling anybody, there was no parking. You couldn't enjoy your weekends."
Just a half century ago, Los Angeles was transforming itself from the most lucrative farm county in the nation into a major metropolis. A zoning ordinance written in 1946 as developers were cutting down the San Fernando Valley's citrus orchards to build suburbia allowed small farms to grow vegetables to truck to market, but banned growing fruit, nuts, or flowers for sale on residential plots.
Kolla could get a conditional use permit, but she has a stubborn streak and it costs $15,000 just to apply. She and others are trying to reverse the zoning laws with a proposal called "The Food and Flowers Freedom Act."
Growers from across Los Angeles formed the Urban Farming Advocates to rally around Kolla and defend her right to grow and lobby the city.
"Most people would pay to have a view of her backyard," says founding member Erik Knutzen, who keeps chickens and grows food in his yard. "I can understand someone not wanting 50 roosters or an autobody shop next door, but our proposal is about bringing common sense back to our lives."
In July, City Council President Eric Garcetti introduced a motion to clarify city policies on urban farms and allow cultivation and sale of flowers, fruits, nuts, or vegetables.
While the city farmers wait patiently for the proposal to work its way through the planning commission, Kolla started a weekly vegetable box subscription service so as not to miss too many of southern California's long growing seasons.
She feels the distinction between vegetables and fruit is arbitrary and unscientific.
"Broccoli is a flower, and a tomato is a fruit. And some of my flowers are edible," Kolla says. "It's more legal for people to grow marijuana in L.A. than flowers."
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