Sunday, June 24, 2012

What about Tomacco? Mmmm...Tomacco....

I Say Tomato, You Say No

Why does it seem like local government officials are competing with each other to see who can implement the most obnoxious rules against people in their respective communities growing food?

With summer now upon us, gardening season is in full swing. And that can only mean it’s time for local government officials around the country to try to outdo one another when it comes to preventing everyday people from growing fruit and vegetables in their own yards.

If the proposition that squads of busybody, anti-gardening bureaucrats are waiting in your thicket, ready to pounce on the pecks of peppers you might have tended in your yard sounds like hyperbole, then you clearly have not been paying attention to the news. In years.

Last summer an Oak Park, Michigan, woman faced more than three months in jail for keeping a well-manicured edible garden in her front yard. Oak Park officials charged Julie Bass with a misdemeanor because in their opinion Ms. Bass’s tomatoes and vegetables did not meet the city’s definition of “suitable live plant material.” The city eventually dropped the charges.

Last month, Newton, Massachusetts officials brought the hammer down on a town resident whose handsome hanging tomato garden ran afoul of a city building ordinance prohibiting the construction of “swing sets, swimming pools, or sheds” in a front yard.

“It’s a straight-out violation of the ordinance,’’ said John Lojek, the city’s commissioner of inspectional services, at the time. (If "inspectional" is a typo, then it is one that appears to be repeated all over officialdom in Massachusetts.)

Faced with the prospect of dismantling the structure, the resident, Eli Katzoff, sought a path to legitimacy.

But Lojek stood firm. “There’s no path for them.’’

Lojek was right--in practice though not in principle. Katzoff was forced to move his plants to the grounds of a nearby theological seminary.

The Boston Globe characterized the move as a sign of “[d]ivine intervention.”

The seminary’s president took a slightly more secular (and less sanguine) view, calling this a case of “the down side of zoning.” And, he wondered, “Who can be against tomatoes?”

Bureaucrats, that’s who.

While Oak Park and Newton are wealthy suburban enclaves, urban and even rural home gardeners are not immune to the flowering cruelty of local bureaucrats.

Take Denise Morrison of Tulsa, Oklahoma. Last summer Tulsa code enforcement officers went onto her land and literally ripped out Morrison’s edible garden.

According to reports, the ordinance at issue stated that “plants can't be over 12-inches tall unless they're used for human consumption.”

Morrison, who was unemployed at the time, consumed the wide variety of plants she grew—including “lemon, stevia, garlic chives, grapes, strawberries, apple mint, spearmint, peppermint, an apple tree, walnut tree, pecan trees and much more.”

Last week Morrison fought back, filing a civil rights lawsuit against the city.

Meanwhile, an Illinois woman is currently fighting county officials who won't permit her or her neighbors keep farm animals on their… farmland.

Kelli Otting’s garden on her one-acre property hasn’t run afoul of the county, but her wish to raise chickens and goats on her farm—located in a rural, unincorporated part of downstate Illinois—has met opposition from the county land commission.

While Otting’s struggles raise the sometimes controversial issue of backyard chickens clucking in urban areas, the general hurdles faced by Otting, Morrison, Katzoff, and Bass—and by thousands of others around the country who simply want to grow their own food—can be blamed on local zoning boards run amok.

Zoning is intended—say its proponents—to prevent nuisances from arising. But when zoning itself becomes the nuisance, and when it gets in the way of people using their own property how they’d like--and exactly no one is made better off, save for the bureaucrats who make and enforce the ordinances--then that piece of zoning must fall.

Decades before First Lady Michelle Obama planted a highly visible garden on the White House back lawn, then-First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt’s efforts to plant a similar garden met with resistance from her own husband’s Department of Agriculture, which Time magazine reported (subscription) at the time was “skeptical of amateur farmers.”

That attitude—having spread like a weed through zoning and code-enforcement rules that stretch across America—is one worth combating.

Baylen J. Linnekin, a lawyer, is executive director of Keep Food Legal, a Washington, D.C. nonprofit that advocates in favor of food freedom—the right to grow, raise, produce, buy, sell, cook, eat, and drink the foods of our own choosing.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

“Tutto nello Stato, niente al di fuori dello Stato, nulla contro lo Stato”


Bio | Email | Follow: @davidschechter


Posted on June 19, 2012 at 10:58 PM


DALLAS — It was Sunday of Memorial Day weekend, and Chris Moore — riding southbound on Stemmons Freeway in Dallas in a pack of 50 to 100 sport bikes — was pulled over while traveling below the speed limit.

"I didn't expect that at all," Moore said.

Officers were out in force that weekend, working to prevent another shutdown of a Dallas freeway like the one on Memorial Day weekend 2011 that ultimately led to three arrests.

So why was Moore pulled over?

Dallas Deputy Sheriff James Westbrook said he wanted to see what was on Moore's camera.

MOORE: "Was I doing something wrong? What am I being pulled over for?"

WESTBROOK: "The whole group of you guys."

MOORE: "No. I was not, individually. How can you pull me over?"

WESTBROOK: "The reason you're being pulled over is because I'm gonna take your camera and we're gonna use it as evidence of the crimes that have been committed by other bikers."

MOORE: "I have not committed any crimes, and you cannot take my personal property from me, sir."

WESTBOOK: "That's fine. Need to see your license and registration."

Moore's lawyer, Hunter Biederman, reviewed the recording.

"Here this officer decided to just go rouge and pull over the first guy he saw with a helmet camera on," he said.

The way Moore sees it, it's not illegal to have a video camera. But when the Deputy returned, he arrested Moore for having a concealed license plate.

WESTBROOK: "You're under arrest for your license plate being obstructed. Place your hands."

MOORE: "Are you kidding me, dude?"

WESTBROOK: "Place your hands behind your back."

As Moore continued to protest, the deputy lost his patience.

MOORE: "Why'd you pull me over in the first place?"

WESTBROOK: "Have a seat, okay?"

MOORE: "Sir. Sir. What you did to me was not right. You know it."

WESTBROOK: "I'm going to ask you one more time to have a seat."

MOORE: "That's f'ed up. Where's my bike going?"

WESTBROOK: "Sit down.I'm telling you to chill out."

Westbrook is then seen on the video shoving Moore into his squad car and slamming the door forcefully.

In a written statement, the Sheriff's Office said Moore was stopped because of a concealed plate. The video was confiscated and turned over to the gang unit as evidence.

Moore's bike was impounded; then he spent eight hours in jail — all of it, he says, on a charge that was made up after the fact.

"Completely shocked at their behavior," he said.