Arleta Club Accepts DWP's Terms to Continue Garden : Farming: Members said they signed an agreement 'under protest' after the utility had issued an ultimatum on use of the 5.5-acre site.


Faced with the loss of their crops, urban gardeners who raise food under power lines in Arleta agreed "under protest" Tuesday to accept terms imposed by the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power.

The agreement allows members of the Arleta Community Garden Club, many of them senior citizens or low-income residents, to continue farming a 5.5-acre community garden that 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."

In a dispute that focused mainly on costs, the DWP had given the club an ultimatum: sign the agreement by Tuesday or vacate the property under power lines along Canterbury Avenue by Aug. 6.

Some 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, DWP's superintendent of transmission right of ways. "We feel the agreement that has been reached is a successful one."

A majority of the club's members were polled by telephone over the weekend, with 42 voting for and one against the final agreement, club treasurer Henry Fowzer said.

Despite the deal, gardeners remained unhappy about a clause requiring the club to maintain a 16-foot access road inside the garden, and to clear the base of transmission towers 50 feet in every direction and keep them clear of weeds, Fowzer said.

"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, club garden master, told DWP commissioners Tuesday.

DWP board president Constance L. Rice said the requirement was "consideration for being able to use the land for free."

Under the agreement, the club also promises to pay for water used in the garden's northern section.

"We do not object to paying for the water that we use. We object to discriminatory treatment," said Winseman, who maintains that other garden clubs are not charged for water.

After the meeting, Winseman said the club will most likely raise annual plot fees to pay for the additional cost of water and brace for the loss of some gardeners who cannot afford the increase. "We anticipate our fees will about double," he said.

DWP representatives insisted that the requirements are the same for all community garden clubs that tend gardens beneath power lines.

In an effort to reach agreement with the Arleta club, DWP dropped its demand that the club maintain parkways outside the garden fence, Duffy said.

And the agency agreed to install meters and piping for the garden's northern section free of charge.

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