Environment & Science

Activists are sitting in 24/7 to keep a Boyle Heights community garden

Proyecto Jardín's lease on the grounds of White Memorial Medical Center ended in January. Since, community members have been sitting in on the grounds around the clock to try and save the space.
Proyecto Jardín's lease on the grounds of White Memorial Medical Center ended in January. Since, community members have been sitting in on the grounds around the clock to try and save the space.
Courtesy of Proyecto Jardín
Proyecto Jardín's lease on the grounds of White Memorial Medical Center ended in January. Since, community members have been sitting in on the grounds around the clock to try and save the space.
Proyecto Jardín has a collection of bee hives, fruit trees and medicinal herbs.
Courtesy of Proyecto Jardín
Proyecto Jardín's lease on the grounds of White Memorial Medical Center ended in January. Since, community members have been sitting in on the grounds around the clock to try and save the space.
Community programming like Zumba and martial arts classes are provided at Proyecto Jardín.
Courtesy of Proyecto Jardín
Proyecto Jardín's lease on the grounds of White Memorial Medical Center ended in January. Since, community members have been sitting in on the grounds around the clock to try and save the space.
Proyecto Jardín is located in Boyle Heights on the grounds of White Memorial Medical Center.
Courtesy of Proyecto Jardín


Update 12:00 p.m.: Neighborhood council votes to support garden

Boyle Heights' neighborhood council on Wednesday evening unanimously voted to support a resolution that would call on White Memorial to renew the garden's lease. Although the vote doesn't require the medical center to take action, Proyecto Jardín members hope it will encourage a renegotiation. 

Feb. 24: Activists sit in to keep community garden

A Boyle Heights community garden is the center of a round-the-clock sit-in by activists who claim they are being unfairly displaced by landlords.

Proyecto Jardin is a 15-year-old garden that sits on land owned by White Memorial Medical Center. It has a collection of bee hives, fruit trees and medicinal herbs. Proyecto Jardin also hosts community programming like Zumba and martial arts classes, volunteer Julian Canek Pena-Vargas said. 

White Memorial decided to end Proyecto Jardin's lease after disputes over new terms for the partnership, according to a statement from medical center spokeswoman Alicia Gonzalez. The Proyecto Jardín website says that there were several conditions presented in order for a new lease to be agreed upon.

The conditions included Proyecto Jardín staying only temporarily for six months, relocating its operations to one-third of the land, agreeing to to attend an hour-long religious education session with a Seventh Day Adventist church pastor (the religious denomination of the medical center), surrendering keys and management to White Memorial and changing the name from Proyecto Jardin to "White Memorial Garden." 

"Changing the name from Proyecto Jardin to White Memorial Garden might seem superficial, but for many of us, it's indicative of sort of devaluing our culture and all of the sweat equity, the time, the work, the effort that's been made to turn that into a space that's inviting," said Pena-Vargas, who's also a teacher with CALÓ YouthBuild, a school dropout recovery program.

Proyecto Jardin's lease expired in January, and ever since, activists have been on the premises round-the-clock to ensure they aren't locked out. While eviction proceedings are not in the works, according to the hospital, proper notice was given to Proyecto Jardín. Pena-Vargas said that after obtaining their own legal council, the garden's leadership was instructed to stay on the land if they wanted to keep it. 

“People have been out there spending the night in the rain, in the cold, because this is something we want to preserve for our future generations,” Pena-Vargas said. 

Pena-Vargas also said that the garden has provided students at CALÓ YouthBuild with internships at Proyecto Jardin. All but one of the workers at the garden are volunteers, and Pena-Vargas said that the project has a grant from the University of Southern California. He said that it is a cultural space for the people of Boyle Heights, and that he feels that though the medical center wants to provide services to the community, "they are a little bit misinformed about what the community really wants."

Members of Proyecto Jardin are set to appear at Boyle Heights City Hall as the neighborhood council votes whether to adopt a resolution that would call on White Memorial to renew the garden's lease. It's expected to pass as another show of ongoing community support, though the vote doesn't force the hospital to do anything.

As for the hospital, it says that it plans on keeping the garden going under new management. 

"We look forward to continuing to work with the existing families and garden volunteers to ensure a smooth transition as we expand and improve the community garden program," spokeswoman Gonzalez's written statement said.

This story has been updated.