Faced with loss of their crops, urban gardeners who raise food under power lines in Arleta agreed under protest Tuesday to accept terms imposed by the Department of Water and Power.
The pact allows members of the Arleta Community Garden Club, many of them senior citizens or low-income residents, to farm a 5.5-acre community garden they have nurtured for 17 years.
"We're right in the middle of the growing season. Members aren't willing to walk away from it," said Craig Wickham, the club's vice president. "With this ultimatum, they gave us no choice but to sign."
The DWP had told club members to sign the agreement by Tuesday or vacate the property under power lines along Canterbury Avenue by Aug. 6.
Under the agreement, the club is to provide liability insurance for gardeners, pay for water for crops, clear weeds from under the power towers, maintain an access road and provide the DWP with names and addresses of club members.
About 65 protesters, mainly senior citizens who rely on the garden to supplement their diet, protested for 3 1/2 hours last week in front of a DWP facility.
"It's never been our intent or desire to remove the Arleta garden club from this site," said Dan Duffy, the DWP's superintendent of transmission rights of way. "We feel the agreement that has been reached is a successful one."
Polled by telephone over the weekend, 42 of the club's 72 members voted for the agreement and one voted against it, said Henry Fowzer, the club's treasurer. The others could not be reached.
Despite the deal, gardeners remained unhappy about a clause requiring the club to maintain the access road in the garden and to clear weeds within a 50-foot radius of the bases of the transmission towers.
"The members were very adamant it be done under protest," Fowzer said. "We believe it's illegal for them to force us to do labor for them."
"Although we will accept this maintenance requirement, we question its legality," David Winseman, the club's garden master, told the DWP board Tuesday.
Constance L. Rice, DWP board president, said the requirements are "consideration for being able to use the land for free."
As for agreeing to pay for water in the garden's northern section, Winseman said: "We do not object to paying for the water that we use. We object to discriminatory treatment." But he said at least two of the five other garden clubs cultivating crops under DWP lines in Los Angeles County are not charged for water.
After the meeting, Winseman said the club probably will double its annual $8 fee for a 14-by-14-foot plot to pay for the additional cost of water.
Despite the club members' protests, DWP representatives insisted that the requirements are the same for all community garden clubs that tend gardens beneath power transmission lines.