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Not Everything Rosy at Bay-Eagle Community Garden

Rumors persist that the Alameda Housing Authority wants to move the Bay/Eagle community garden to the Beltline Railway property. (Action Alameda News)

Rumors persist that the Alameda Housing Authority wants to move the Bay/Eagle community garden to the Beltline Railway property. (Action Alameda News)

Despite the lush plots, not everything is rosy at Alameda’s Bay-Eagle Community Garden. Rumors are that the Alameda Housing Authority, which owns the land, wants to move the garden to the former Beltline Railway property.

As is typical with these sorts of rumors in Alameda, they seem to take a life of their own.

The Garden Sprouts

According to Jane Jackson, who helps manage the garden by collecting dues and interfacing with the Housing Authority, the idea for the garden was conceived in 1982, when a neighboring resident had a vision of transforming a stretch of land outside her kitchen window, “studded with broken glass and garbage,” into something more. The City of Alameda refused to help, so she took her idea to the Alameda Food Bank, which lent support on the condition that the garden share the harvest with the food bank. Eventually the City of Alameda bought-in and provided a playground at one end of the parcel, near the corner of St. Charles Street and Eagle Avenue. The parcel is roughly 10,000 square feet in size.

To this day, a plot at the garden is reserved for the Alameda Food Bank. (There are 40 plots; residents of nearby Parrot Village, a housing authority complex, have first right-of-refusal on plots, followed by moderate-income Alameda residents, followed by Alameda residents in general.)

About 15 years ago, Ms. Jackson explained, the housing agency put forth a proposal to build housing on the property, and the gardeners revolted, shutting down the idea. Somehow, now, the idea has resurfaced, amended or bolstered with the suggestion that the garden would be relocated to the former Beltline Railway property, which the City of Alameda is trying to turn into parkland.

Janet Beatty, a gardener at the site for 10 years, told Action Alameda news that “I understand that years ago the Alameda Housing Authority tried to get rid of the garden so they could build housing on the land. There was a community uproar and for whatever reason, the housing agency dropped the plan. (It may have had more to do with finances that the outcry, though – I don’t know.) A move to the beltway would be one way that the agency could get around that agreement.”

Jackson told Action Alameda News, “enthusiasm for another community garden in Alameda is high, however, relocating Bay Eagle to the Beltline is not. Over the years locals have hewn the sod into soil. Conditioned and refined now, it can’t compare to the coarse chunk of contaminated earth that the Alameda Housing Authority has in mind for our allocation in the not so distant future!”

Transplanting the Garden

Housing Authority Director Michael Pucci told Action Alameda News that there is no deal in the works to relocate the garden to the Beltline property, as plans for the land are not final, and, as yet, there is no funding for its development. However, he did say, “The Housing Authority has expressed concern in the past regarding the increasing costs of running and maintaining the garden, especially since so few of our residents utilize the garden. Our position is that if the City of Alameda will be developing a community garden space as part of the eventual development of the Beltline property, it seems reasonable and logical for the city to incorporate the existing Bay-Eagle gardeners into that city run community garden because it is more in line with the mission of the city to provide services to all members of the community.”

On any relocation, Ms. Beatty said, “The majority of gardeners probably do not know about the proposed move-they just want to garden. Those that do know are outraged. We have been on this land for over 30 years, many of us have spent years developing and tending our plot. There is a bigger issue than just moving the Bay-Eagle garden to the Beltline land. This garden is the only viable community garden in Alameda. There is a tremendous need (look at our growing waitlist!) for more community gardening opportunities in Alameda. Moving this garden defeats that need. I am advocating for MORE community gardening (i.e. the old Island High property as well as a NEW garden in the beltway). Some of us at Bay-Eagle would be willing to help in the development/management of a new garden.”

Beatty also said they do outreach to Parrot Village residents and residents of other Housing Authority properties every year.

The gardeners also told Action Alameda News that the housing agency pays for some repairs to the land, like fixing fences are water lines, but is otherwise very “hands off” and that gardener dues go to the agency to pay for water.

Beatty also asserted that many Alameda Housing Authority residents do garden, “including at least two families from Parrot Village, several from Independence Plaza and other agency properties. The majority of the rest of us are lower-income apartment dwellers.”

Stripped Down Play Structure

The play structure provided at the creation of the garden has been stripped-down to a skeleton, and is now unusable. Beatty told Action Alameda News that, “It is a dangerous structure, filled with broken glass, used condoms and an occasional crack vial and other debris.”

On multiple visits to the site, Action Alameda News found the area around the structure littered with broken glass and cigarette butts, but no used condoms or vials.

Mr. Pucci told us, “The Housing Authority’s residents with children, like most parents in this day and age, prefer to keep an eye on their children when they are playing. Because this area is removed from Parrot Village, it fell into disuse and became subject to vandalism. Furthermore, this play area also fills with water during the rainy season. Some of the vandalized play equipment was removed a few years ago in response to risk management concerns and the Housing Authority has funds allocated in the upcoming fiscal year to remove the remainder of the play structures and fill-in the depression. Parrot Village has many play areas – with play equipment – incorporated into the courtyards surrounded by clusters of units. Parents can literally watch their children while standing at their kitchen windows. Additionally, there is a large expanse of turf in the rear area of the complex also directly observable from the units that children use to play. For the teenagers, there are two well-used and well-maintained basketball courts available for the exclusive use of our residents.”

When Action Alameda News walked through the complex on the day that the pictures accompanying this article were taken, there were indeed youth playing basketball, and all but one of the U-shaped courtyards were indeed equipped with small pieces of play equipment.

The original play structure is kitty-corner from the eastern end of Parrot Village, but directly in front of Parrot Gardens, which the Housing Authority’s website describes as, “eight units (6 single family homes and a duplex),” for very-low income families, “located next to Parrot Village and the Community Garden.”

The Future

The City of Alameda’s vision for the development of the Beltline property, presented in early May, includes community gardens. There’s no clear source of funding for this development yet, although the City of Alameda and open space advocates are closely eyeing recently announced grant source.s

The devotion of the gardeners to their cause seems equal to that of affordable housing advocates. It seems certain that a proposal to turn the Bay-Eagle garden plot into housing will come forth again before long, and the dirt will start flying.

4 comments to Not Everything Rosy at Bay-Eagle Community Garden

  • gabrielle

    the land at the bay eagle community is lush and soil is high in nutrients. this area needs to remain a garden, as there are no toxins or synthetics compounds going into the soil and everything is maintained via sustainable usage and mangement of water and soil is aided by natural sources such as composting and using worm castings and other natural biodegradable components like broken down leaves, plants, and vegetable and fruit waste. this land is now a highly sustainable area, it doesent make sense to put up housing in this area. i thought that alameda was to remain a charming beach town, and not become industrialized or urbanized by overpopulation and compact housing.
    AT THIS CRUCIAL TIME, WATER IS BECOMING A SCARCE RESOURCE WITH LACK OF RAINS AND MUCH GREATER SOLAR INFLUENCE AND LESS OZONE, doesent it make sense to maintain an area that can also generate more O2 into the atmosphere? we need more of these gardens around the area, NOT LESS WITH MORE HOUSING!

  • Chuck Willow

    Our nation’s political class has degenerated to the point where it now feels free to spew the most blatant and clumsy Orwellian newspeak to cover their motives of self interest ,at the sacrifice of the peoples wishes.

    While we allow the hollow gesturing of our “leaders” to ambulance chase photo-ops and lecture us like errant school children on global warming,recycling,sustainability and assorted other buzz words issues,Will we allow them to once again destroy in the name of the public interest, the public good.

    We should not allow the care and respect for life to be used as a political pawn by the state to further our own debasement.Parents and children in our neighborhoods should be able to look out their kitchen windows and see….life, see people tending their soil, tending their plants, truly being stewards of the land.As a gardner at Bay-Eagle I’ve had mobs of kids come and ask questions about plants,gardening,insects, etc. they ask if they can water the plants, if they can have a little garden of their own, if I would give them some seeds. I’ve had Adults lean over the fence and talk about memories of grandmother’s garden, ask questions about growing, trade recipes. Adults and children both walk away with a smile,and comfortable ease, and enthusiasm. The same things we gardeners get from growing.

    Should we now allow that to be ripped out of our neighborhoods and shuttled of to a tree museum, because it is expident for a bunch of developers. Is a garden which is shared not just by a group of soil stained eccentrics, but shared by everyone in the neighborhood as a sanctuary and oasis for a living earth, be razed and discarded once again. remember the City of Alameda’s brilliant clear cutting of the trees on Park street.All in the name of the “public good”

    Though those who govern us are extremely well versed in the rhetoric, and posturing of “green”, but from their actions it is apparent they have little true knowledge or respect for the earth.

    It appears a time has for the people of Alameda to grab a hat, grab a pair of gloves, and get a little dirty. It is time we tended our garden, and tell our “leaders” NO.

  • Sandi

    I’m troubled (but not surprised) that there is discussion to relocate the current garden. My husband and I waited for 2 years to clear the wait-list for an 11′ x 13′ plot. There is need for additional garden space for community residents, and uprooting this garden to move it somewhere else doesn’t address that need.

  • Peter & Angel Nevada

    What makes Alameda a wonderful place to live, among many other things like location, it’s many beautiful parks,
    beaches, libraries, accessible public transportation, etc.
    is of course the Bay-Eagle Community Garden. The city
    leaders should create more garden spaces for us to
    develop and enjoy for generations to come. Our island city has lots of available areas, including large undeveloped
    spaces at and around the old naval airbase, among many others. Gardening is a wonderful, wholesome, healthy, and enjoyable experience for seniors, adults and children alike.
    P.S. When was the last time you sliced into a beautiful, fragrant, fresh, homegrown beefstake tomato?

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