By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
By Eric Nicholson
It was a deeply unsatisfying explanation for Haley, because "our group didn't want one cent of stimulus funds."
Nor did they ever want a garden run by City Hall. In fact, they thought the best indication of their garden's chance for success was their own willingness to pay for it and run it themselves.
"We've got people willing to pony up all of this money in an economy like this. And I think people who are willing to put that much skin in the game are not going to put up the money and then just walk away."
Haley, like Worthington, doubts City Hall bears any true animus toward community gardens. "I have a feeling that it's a big, unwieldy machine," she says. "And this really hasn't been done before."
But that's actually not true. Community gardens in Dallas have been around for a quarter-century. And Don Lambert, the person who has had more to do with them over that period than anyone else, thinks Haley is being way too generous with Dallas City Hall.
"Paul Dyer has been an obstacle to community gardeners for 20 years," Lambert says.
Lambert is the acknowledged dean of the community garden movement in Dallas. A University of California-Berkeley anthropologist, he was a principle architect of the revered "Asian Garden"—or East Dallas Community Garden, as it is officially known—founded in 1987 for refugee families on Fitzhugh in East Dallas (See "The Garden of Life," Dallas Observer, December 3, 1998).
Lambert has been a mentor to many of the region's 22 established community gardens. He is the person most often cited by other community gardeners in the region as the expert on how to make them happen.
He and other veterans of the local community gardens believe there is antipathy toward their movement in City Hall generally and in Dyer's Park and Recreation Department specifically, because of the gardens' historical post-'60s association with grassroots community organizing, which City Hall, they say, has always viewed as trouble.
"We think that's a side of it," Lambert says. He believes a community garden can be "a formidable force," one that can bring citizens together and organize them, possibly for political ends.
In the early 1990s, Lambert headed a city-run community gardens program at the Civic Garden Center (now the Texas Discovery Gardens), operated under the auspices of the Park and Recreation Department of which Dyer was then, as now, director. He says that the department had grown alarmed after learning from a newspaper article that Lambert was seeking to establish a regional alliance of community gardens.
For some reason—Lambert is unsure exactly why—the notion of a regional confederacy of community gardeners put the fear of God in somebody. Perhaps someone saw visions of hoe-wielding hippies marching on City Hall.
"The director of the Garden Center delivered a letter to me two or three days later from the Park Department, and I was actually forbidden to create any kind of a garden coalition.
"As I sort of escalated and showed my indignation, eventually I was forbidden to talk to any members of the Park Board."
Lambert says his immediate superior told him, "I was putting the Garden Center into an untenable position. I eventually got fired."
After his departure from the city, Lambert founded Gardeners in Community Development, devoted to helping launch privately owned and operated community gardens. He says he has seen the city's antipathy for community gardens manifest itself as an ever-higher Berlin Wall of red tape.
Lambert describes going to the city's plan department repeatedly during the last 20 years to ask why community gardeners were having so much trouble getting simple permits from the city for things like water meters and electrical connections.
Lambert says one city planner told him, "'Well, describe a community garden.' I said, 'It usually starts on a vacant lot, and you have to get a water meter established.' He says, 'Oh, well, you can't establish a water meter on a vacant lot. You have to have a house or a residence.'"
On another visit to City Hall, Lambert says, "The zoning guy went through the whole zoning book, page by page, zoning category by zoning category." After examining the entire book and finding no mention of community gardens, the official told Lambert community gardens were an "illegal use."
"I said, 'No, we just want a water meter like we already have at other community gardens.' He said, 'What are those addresses?' He looks them up and says, 'Well, this should never have happened.'"
His version of events could all be chalked up to Lambert's own skeptical view of City Hall, except that it comports closely with what city officials themselves say about community gardens and red tape.
OEQ director Griffin says that the original idea for city-owned gardens came about because his predecessor had figured out that city zoning codes made it very difficult to set up gardens on private land.
Even city officials couldn't get the city to do it.
"We immediately ran into barriers of land-use and zoning issues," Griffin says. "The city has a land-use of 'agricultural production' [farming], but it's only for plots of 3 acres or more."