After eight weeks of a 24/7 sit-in at a community garden, volunteers celebrated the possibility that the owners of the land — White Memorial Medical Center — want to meet them at the discussion table with a rally on Tuesday afternoon.
"This is really important to us because for the last three months, our community has been sleeping in the garden and holding vigil in the space in the rain, in the hail, in the cold to prevent an illegal eviction," Canek Pena-Vargas, a garden volunteer, told KPCC.
The Medical Center said in a statement that it had agreed to a meeting with a representative of Proyecto Jardin "to clarify the hospital's position," but that the date of the meeting had yet to be set.
Pena-Vargas said that Proyecto Jardin has been a food provider, community space and cultural hub in Boyle Heights for more than 15 years. The garden's struggles began in January when White Memorial Medical Center decided to end its lease with the garden's current managers.
While they were offered a six-month conditional lease, Pena-Vargas said Proyecto Jardin's leaders were taken aback by some of White Memorial's stipulations — like requiring an hourlong religious education session.
“We hope that through dialogue and communication we can develop a sustainable solution, which could be another long-term lease — or if the hospital is up for it we feel confident, and we would be excited to start a fundraising campaign to purchase the land if they’d be willing to sell it,” Pena-Vargas said. “There are multiple generations of people who have put their time, their money, their sweat and their labor into building that space."
"We stand by our belief that transitioning to new community partners will increase greater access, participation and use of the gardens for members of our entire community," the center said in the statement. "This garden will remain open for the use, enjoyment and health benefits of the entire community, and we look forward to continuing to work with the existing families and volunteers to ensure a smooth transition and continued use and participation as we expand and improve the community garden program."
Over time, the garden has built infrastructure like solar panels, restrooms, mosaic art, an exercise mat for Zumba classes and a beehive — all of which Pena-Vargas said cannot be split between co-managers, as White Memorial had laid out in their temporary lease proposal.
He said the community would be "heartbroken" if the garden had to move to a different space.