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the latest from NYC


For those of you who don't get the NY Times and are interested in what 
is happening in NYC. The struggle continues.

NY Times 2/16/2000
February 16, 2000




Police Occupy Lower East Side Garden and Arrest 31

By C. J. CHIVERS

<Picture: T>he narrow lot on East Seventh Street, wedged between two
apartment buildings and showing the remains of last fall's crop of 
vegetables
and herbs, would hardly seem capable of attracting attention in the 
bustle of
New York.

But yesterday morning it managed to capture, for a moment, center stage 
in
the city, encapsulating the fight that has been going on for years over 
the
hundreds of community gardens that have sprung up on city-owned lots, 
many
with official encouragement.

Yesterday, as the city was sending bulldozers and the police to clear 
out the
tiny community garden known as Esperanza Garden, the state attorney 
general
was sending lawyers to court to try to stop them, and dozens of 
protesters
were chaining themselves to cement blocks that they had buried in the 
garden
months ago to prepare for just this moment.

It was the latest pitched battle between the Giuliani administration, 
which
wants to reclaim the properties to make way for low- and middle-income
housing, and community advocates who see the gardens as invaluable 
solace and
scenery in a city dominated by asphalt and concrete. The fight has been 
waged
in the courts, the news media and the neighborhoods, and has at times 
even
attracted celebrities like Bette Midler, who helped rescue 112 other 
lots
last year.

Esperanza Garden has managed to draw intense devotion on the Lower East 
Side.
Just hours before the court hearing was to begin, demonstrators who had 
spent
the night guarding the garden were in a tense standoff with the police.

They had chained themselves to concrete blocks and fences in hopes of
preventing the garden from being razed. They were chanting songs.

And as often seems to be the case when the community gardens are at 
stake,
confusion reigned.

Before a judge could weigh in on the merits of the state's case, the 
city
acted. The police waded into the demonstration, arresting 31 people and
scattering dozens of others. A work crew with a bulldozer, backhoe and 
chain
saws then set to destroying all traces of the garden, which had been in
existence since 1977.

Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani, who hopes to sell the lot to BFC Properties, 
a
developer, says this lot and hundreds of others like it can be used to 
ease a
housing shortage. The lots will create housing for people who can least
afford it, he said, and the city's plans are legal and sound.

"If you live in an unrealistic world then you can say everything should 
be a
community garden," Mr. Giuliani said. "Then where would people live 
where
they are able to get affordable housing?"

The resistance to the city's plans includes the court challenge from 
Attorney
General Eliot L. Spitzer, who says that the lots, which had once fallen 
under
the city's program to encourage community gardens, should be considered
parks, which could only be sold after state environmental review or by 
an act
of the Legislature.

"The fact of the matter is that this is a determination the courts 
should
make," Mr. Spitzer said. "This is an unfortunate display of the mayor
preventing the judicial process from operating."

The timing of yesterday's actions left some of the gardeners and 
sympathizers
bewildered.

"It wreaks havoc on the conscience," said Joel Kupferman, a staff lawyer 
for
the New York Environmental Law and Justice Project. "I am crestfallen."

The police action also created a scene. In recent months, as it seemed 
sure
that the city would evict the gardeners, they fortified land they had 
come to
see as their own.

In addition to the concrete blocks they chained themselves to, the 
garderners
erected a tripod to stand watch, and built a sculpture of a large tree 
frog,
or coquí, which in Puerto Rican legend is said to repel attackers. The 
frog
had room inside for at least two people.

Yesterday, the fortifications failed to hold.

By 3:15 a.m., the police began towing away cars on the street, while the
protesters gathered around a fire. By 7 a.m., the crowd of protesters 
had
grown to 150. They chanted: "New York City has got to breathe. More 
gardens,
more peace."

"Even if they raze this garden, we'll take it back," said Michael 
Shenker, a
resister. "We'll take two for every one they destroy.

Giuliani, Fooliani! We're going to haunt Giuliani like the Furies from 
Greek
mythology."

Shortly after 10 a.m. the officers converged, cutting Mr. Shenker and 
other
protesters free and carting them off to local precincts. Although the
protesters had hoped to delay the city until Mr. Spitzer's lawyers could
argue their case in court, they failed.

The last of the protesters was removed by 11:30. The court did not 
finish
hearing the state's motion until early afternoon, at which time Justice
Richard D. Huttner of State Supreme Court in Brooklyn blocked the city 
from
moving against 174 other lots until the court meets again next month.

Lawyers in the case said the judge separated Esperanza Garden from his 
ruling
because it is the subject of a separate proceeding, filed by the
neighborhood, that has been rejected by the courts and is now under 
appeal.

The legal distinction mattered little. By the time the order was issued,
Esperanza Garden was no more.

"It's incredible to me," said Ariane Burgess. "It took 22 years to 
create
this beautiful space, and they completely destroyed it in a couple of 
hours."

As Ms. Burgess spoke, the creak and rumble of the bulldozer could be 
heard
from the lot, where all of the garden's structures and plantings were 
being
crushed, including the frog. A woman wandered by, carrying a burlap
scarecrow.

The police said the 31 protesters were charged with trespassing and 
would be
held overnight for morning court appearances. Some were also charged 
with
obstructing justice and resisting arrest, the police said.

Mr. Giuliani said he was unmoved by the timing of the arrests, and by 
Judge
Huttner's temporary restraining order.

"We are considering appealing that," he said. "I would ask people to 
consider
how hard it is to get an apartment in New York, how the vacancy rate is
nonexistent. I mean, something has to give."

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