When some Los Angeles residents began ripping up their front lawns and planting patches of vegetables and fruit instead, advocates of edible gardening and local political leaders hailed the practice as a smart and economical way to bring healthy food into homes, especially in lower-income areas of the city where supermarkets are few and produce may be too expensive for many.
But extending those gardens onto parkways — the strip of land between the sidewalk and the street curb — ran afoul of city regulations. Although the parkways are technically the property of homeowners, the city of Los Angeles has an easement on them and restricts what kind of plantings can be put there. Vary from the rules and risk a citation — or apply for a permit for non-standard landscaping that will cost at least $400. In all cases, property owners are required to do the upkeep on the parkways.
Currently, enforcement of those regulations has been suspended while the Los Angeles City Council considers lifting restrictions on food gardens on the parkways. City Council President Herb Wesson, whose district is located in central and South Los Angeles, has asked city agencies to report back on ways to amend the parkway landscaping guideline to include edible plants and other non-standard plantings. He also asked them to scout surplus city land that might be used for community gardens.
There are sound safety reasons for the city to have some restrictions on what gets planted in those parkways. People who are growing anything on a parkway other than grass or other low-growing plants — and certainly a food garden falls into that category — must maintain at least an 18-inch clear pathway alongside the curb so that people can get into and out of parked cars. There is also a height restriction on plantings. The city might need to require walking paths that cross through planted parkways, thereby opening sight lines and offering some space. And the city will have to think hard about the fact that it is liable for any injury that occurs in a parkway; trip on a watermelon and you could demand damages from the city.
But none of this should deter city officials from finding a way to allow some edible and other non-standard plantings in parkways with certain reasonable restrictions. The benefits — healthy produce outside one’s front door, attractive gardens replacing blighted parkways — far outweigh the challenges of revising the rules.