New Squatted Park In Santa Cruz Gets Bulldozed
Friends, neighbors, and comrades gathered early in the morning on Saturday, December 3rd to transform a vacant lot on the south-end of Santa Cruz's main street into a vibrant community park. Folks worked throughout the day breaking up hunks of concrete, created five large raised garden beds (with plans for three more), filled them with soil, and planted dozens of plants. Curious people passed by asked questions, offered up complements, and even joined in. By the end of the day, approximately 40-50 people had helped in creating North America's newest squatted park.
Friends, neighbors, and comrades gathered early in the morning on Saturday, December 3rd to transform a vacant lot on the south-end of Santa Cruz's main street into a vibrant community park. Folks worked throughout the day breaking up hunks of concrete, created five large raised garden beds (with plans for three more), filled them with soil, and planted dozens of plants. Curious people passed by asked questions, offered up complements, and even joined in. By the end of the day, approximately 40-50 people had helped in creating North America's newest squatted park.|
At the end of the day, a statement was released. It described the process of construction and explained the motivations behind it.
"This is an effort to reclaim the commons, to reverse the trend toward privatization of space and give it back to communities. The new community park is a place to hang out, spend time and meet friends, a place to find one another. For decades in Santa Cruz, public space has increasingly been fenced off, restricted, and sold to commercial interests. Capitalism strives to restrict the commons, to keep us separate, isolated, and vulnerable. "
In Santa Cruz, it is illegal to sit almost anywhere downtown. You aren't legally allowed to sit down near a doorway, ATM, or piece of public art. There is a bronze statue of Wobbly street musician Tom Scribner half way down Pacific Ave. You will get a ticket if you sit near him. Next to the biggest musical venue in town, the city has gone as far as installing statues of penguins every 40 feet, so sitting is illegal everywhere on the entire block. It is also illegal to 'play games', 'write with chalk', 'blow bubbles' (seriously), sing too loudly, and a variety of other seemingly random things that aren't shopping. The new park provided one of the only spaces on Pacific, aside from the few remaining benches, where sitting and gathering was unrestricted.
The night after the park was created and over the next day, the park was utilized in the way it was intended. People hung out, gathered, and socialized. It was created outside of the law, and there were no city ordinances governing its use or forcing people out after dark. The lot that had collected garbage and weeds for decades had finally become something interesting. And to people from the neighborhood, it was a welcome improvement.
There aren't really any public social gathering places in Santa Cruz. There aren't a ton across the for that matter US either. There is another squatted park not too far away from Santa Cruz, People's Park in Berkeley. That land was reclaimed from UC Berkeley in 1969, wrestled out of the hands of police repeatedly, turned into a public park, and battled over for decades. It is currently still owned by the UC Regents and is still squatted. As for social gathering place? We'll let the locals debate that one.
One example of a successful a squatted park turned social gathering place is Exarchia Park in Athens, Greece. Residents of the neighborhood tore up a cement parking lot in front of the country's socialist (and currently ruling) political party headquarters and planted plants, built paths, benches and a playground in its place. Pitched battles against riot police were repeated over the space for months, until finally the city gave up and the park was left alone. Residents of the area self organized to maintain and improve the park, installing a small theatre area, planting large gardens, generally beautifying the space, and taking responsibility to cover day-to-day maintenance like trash collection and watering. Every evening, hundreds of people come to the park to meet and socialize. Many in the neighborhood consider it, as well as nearby Exarchia Square, to be essential to visit daily.
Exarchia's self-organized park.
Back in Santa Cruz, the formerly abandoned 40 by 60 foot lot sits on the corner of Spruce Street and Pacific Avenue, pinned in between the street and a parking lot. Half of the parking spaces have been blocked off by a chain link fence for the last two months, while Datum Construction Management out of Boise, Idaho has been working to hollow out the building on the opposite end of the block and install a Walgreens.
On Monday morning, a worker from Datum Construction came across the street into SubRosa (the anarchist infoshop) to say that if they knew the gardeners, let them know they only had a few hours to remove the plants before he bulldozed the newly erected park. He said he "didn't want to be the bad-guy," but he had orders from Datum Construction HQ to destroy the park.
Calls went out and within an hour, the park was full of people. After two hours, the construction manager's deadline of 1:00pm came and went, and the crowd swelled in size. Throughout the rest of the afternoon, people talked, mingled, and strategized. Dozens of people again filled the park, occupying the space until everyone from Datum Construction went home. People hung out into the night. The park was safe for the time being, but it was clear that the land that had been seized two days earlier was still under threat.
By 7am on Dec. 6, there were already people in the park reading and drinking tea. By about 8am, the Datum Construction Site Manager Jason Reisinger and his employees began fencing in the community park, with three people sitting there enjoying it. He came and told people they had to leave. He said if they didn't, he would call the cops. Before he finished his sentence, four cars of police that he obviously had already called arrived on the corner. The folks in the park seemed to be confused and upset, but complied with the police demands that they leave the park. The police left and the fence went up the rest of the way.
As the Manager put up the fence, people asked him if he knew what the plans were, and if he planned on bulldozing the garden right away. He said his orders were just to put up the fence, that he wasn't sure what the plan was, and that there should be a pamphlet on site soon describing what landscaping would happen in the lot.
After about 20 minutes, the sound of a tractor hitting concrete planters drew neighbors and passersby toward the lot. People rushed the lot, running around or jumping over the fence to stop the tractor from destroying any more planters. Reisinger, who was driving the tractor, turned it off and called the police again. During a particularly curse-laden exchange, one angry person grabbed some large handfuls of dirt and mulch from the ground and shoved it down the bulldozers exhaust pipe. Reisinger shouted "You're destroying private property!" People shouted back, "You're destroying our park!"
More and more police showed up, as did more and more upset neighbors and friends. The site manager called United Rentals, bumbling an apology that he hadn't returned the tractor yet because there were too many people in the park yesterday to use it, and now he needed someone to come check it out to make sure it wasn't going to break if he turned it back on. The tractor was out of commission for about an hour before a maintenance person from United Rentals showed up to see if the tractor was damaged. The repairman cleared it for use. Reisinger got back in the bulldozer and turned it back on, blowing soil and mulch up in the air. He then spent most of the next hour destroying the garden under the protection of about a dozen cops.
The garden is gone for now, reduced once more to a pile of rubble. Those of us who spent hours working on creating the space are angry. We don't intend on giving up.
The one remaining plant from the garden.
We are still working out our next steps, but for the time being, here is the contact information for those responsible. There are varying levels of responsibility in this group of people and companies. Some might be heartless bastards, some may come around and decide to not intervene the next time we take the space, and some are already sympathetic. Keep that in mind when you decide how you want to approach each phone call you make, office you visit, or fax you send. More importantly than conveying your disdain to these asshats for the destruction of our squatted park, start looking out in your neighborhoods for vacant lots that can be seized from the hands of the capitalists and turned into vibrant gathering points.
Datum Construction Management, Inc. is doing the construction on the new Walgreens going in on the property. This morning Datum destroyed the community park on the corner of Spruce and Pacific.
Corporate office in Boise, ID: 208-377-3099 and 208-362-9458
DATUM CONSTRUCTION MANAGEMENT, INC
8475 W. Elisa St.
Boise, Idaho, 83709
keithjones [at] datumconstruction.com
After voicing your concerns with the corporate headquarters, call back and ask for the program manager for Santa Cruz. That person is giving the orders to destroy the park. He is an angry, belligerent person, so be ready for that.
Jason Reisinger - 208-860-5111 - On site Construction Manager - He made the calls locally to have the fence go up, and was the one who drove the bulldozer. He doesn't want to feel personally responsible for his actions, so he blames the corporation he works for. Please call him and let him know you are upset that he bulldozed the garden. Tell him you don't approve of his actions, and to put pressure on his bosses so he doesn't have to do it again. Jason can also be reached at jasonreisinger [at] datumconstruction.com
The property owner of the lot is HAWKINS COMPANIES COMMERCIAL DEVELOPERS.
They are apparently the ones who gave the order to Datum Construction to bulldoze. Let them know that if they want to be a part of the Santa Cruz community, they're going to need to show some respect.
The corporation they made up for the Santa Cruz project is called HCO, LLC - Santa Cruz, which may or may not be relevant when you talk to them.
You can find out more about them at http://www.hcollc.com
HAWKINS COMPANIES contact info:
855 Broad Street, Suite 300
Boise, Idaho 83702-7153
Hawkins Companies ? California
3031 Stanford Ranch Rd, Suite 2-215 Rocklin CA 95765
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