LA’s Parkway Garden Dilemma: Not Fixed Yet

parkway garden on Sunset Blvd.

A parkway vegetable garden on Sunset Blvd..

The City of Los Angeles’ crackdown on parkway vegetable gardens made international news thanks to an article by LA Times columnist Steve Lopez. Lopez was reporting on two parkway gardens that were issued citations by the LA Bureau of Street Services. This crackdown came two years after Ron Finley was busted for being a vegetable gardening outlaw.

Over the weekend I started seeing articles, Tweets and Facebook posts (some of which I’m guilty of spreading) stating that the city council had approved parkway vegetable gardens. This is not technically correct. The city council has just suspended enforcement of parkway planting regulations while they await a report from the Bureau of Street Services.

While I suspect the council will ultimately allow vegetables in the parkway (it’s political suicide to oppose healthy food, after all), we also have to remember that the devil is in the details. I’m willing to bet that the Bureau of Street Services will allow “edible” plants but leave in place their short list of ornamentals as well as their requirement to keep those ornamentals mowed unless you apply for an expensive permit.

While I’m all for vegetable in the parkway, I also think that the city should be encouraging the planting of native and Mediterranean plants. My advice for the Bureau of Street Services for their new regulations:

  • Consult the community: activists, landscape architects, non-profits and individuals like Ron Finley. If you had done this the last time we would not be wasting time and money to re-craft the parkway regulations.
  • Throw out your plant lists. There are a lot of species of plants on the planet! Why can I plant Achillea millefolium but not Danthonia californica?
  • Avoiding plant lists also goes for using the word “edible.” Most “weeds” are edible. Marijuana is edible (but would probably not last long in the parkway!). A lot of plants are “edible” but not necessarily something you’d want to eat. If a neighbor complains about my set of parkway plants can I just make a salad to prove they are “edible?”
  • Allow growing plants over 4-inches without permit fees. If plants are not allowed to go to flower they have little benefit to pollinating insects and birds. And we don’t need more lawn mowers and leaf blowers in this city.
  • Get rid of the permit fees. Why should someone be charged to do the right thing, i.e. plant an attractive set of either edible or drought tolerant plants? There’s currently no permit fee to plant a water hungry lawn that needs to be “mowed and blowed” every week.

It gets down to the simple fact that a human being has to decide what is a “nuisance.” Untended Bermuda grass with a couch and busted up bookcase: that’s a nuisance. But you can’t specify in the municipal code what a garden should look like. All you can do is offer suggestions. To that end I would suggest that the Bureau of Street Services collaborate with the community to come up with a web site showing some good examples. But, again, let’s back off on the lists and permit fees.

And a suggestion for those of us on the receiving end of these future regulations. We have to pay careful attention to what they are crafting. If we don’t like it we need to press back. If the city council goes ahead with another set of ridiculous guidelines we need to actively ignore them. That is, if they let us plant edibles but not drought tolerant plants without a permit, we need to plant a lot of drought tolerant plants until they realize that our neighborhoods belong to us, not the paper pushers in City Hall.

And if you haven’t seen Finley’s Ted Talk yet, please get with the program.

Leave a comment


  1. My city just went “sustainable” and are “allowing” front yard gardens, composting, bee keeping, clotheslines, and chickens. However, to follow their excessive regulations to the letter makes anything on this list a labor of Hercules. Adding insult to injury, all of these things require permits.
    Except for the bees, I have been doing all of those things for years and will continue do so …without a stinking permit. THEY MADE ME A CRIMINAL (I always wanted to say that in casual conversation).

    • Really? A permit for a clothesline? Let’s assume someone dries clothes because using electricity or having a drier is not economically feasible instead of drying clothes outdoors for more lofty reasons. How will paying for a permit help the person’ economy?

      Will a person have to have a permit to dry clothes hanging from a line on the front porch? Can a person freely throw towels over the lawn furniture and the fence? Will hanging clothes hangers from trees need a permit? Does drying on a balcony or front porch railing require a permit? I have seen all these done.

  2. i would suggest one of two options: (1) meet with the council person who will draft the legislation and offer, kindly, your assistance in the drafting of the legislation given that you have on-the-ground experience in this matter. they should want to meet with the ‘gardening’ community.

    Or (2) draft it yourself and present it to the council person for their consumption. San Francisco has a sidewalk landscaping program (out of the Dept of Public Works) and it can serve as a rough template (it does have its flaws!

    As you engage the political class, please keep in mind that you catch more bees with honey than vinegar!!

  3. I have been following this blog with interest and gratitude for the information given for a bit, now. What seems to be happening for now reason is happening according to a very well thought out plan. Namely, the United Nations’ Agenda 21, which sounds like yet another crackpot, tinfoil hat conspiracy theory – except that if you look at the hoops you have to jump to garden, the excessive regs you have to follow and taxes you have to pay to “own” a piece of land, the increasing centralization of our education process, and so forth, it all begins to add up. Please do yourselves a huge favor and take the time to look up Rosa Koire on Youtube. She’s an activist in California who is one of the people in the forefront of exposing just what our government is up to. Warning: it’s scary stuff, and gardeners, farmers and other peaceful people like us are not welcome in this brave new world~ Peace from Vermont…

  4. such a sad day when people cannot be left to think for themselves and to use their initiative. Do these little parkways belong to the householder? If so as long as they tend them then surely that is all to the good. Here in the UK there is quite a lot of ‘guerilla gardening’, hooray I say. Everyone hangs there washing out, often in the winter it comes in frozen and stiff!

  5. Pingback: My Word with Douglas E. Welch » My Favorite Things for August 2013 – Douglas E. Welch

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