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Many Urban Farmers Cling to Their Cal State Gardens : Campus: Some say they won't go and have staked out plots with tools, hoses and what's left of the winter crop.

March 21, 1993|JILL GOTTESMAN and JOHN POPE | TIMES STAFF WRITERS

LONG BEACH — Cal State Long Beach officials said last week that they are abandoning plans to build a temporary parking lot at the site of the campus organic gardens, but they did not back down on their order that the gardeners vacate the land.

Although they were told to be off the plot by Wednesday, many of the urban farmers said they will not go and have staked out their gardens with tools, hoses and what is left of their winter chard, broccoli and onions.

Others quietly transplanted vegetables to their back yards, leaving behind a tangle of weeds and dying plants studded with the university's "No Trespassing" signs.

By Thursday morning, the water had been turned off at the site--prompting half a dozen gardeners to use bottled water for their wilting plants.

But the gardeners were undaunted.

"Some of us might have to get arrested," said Mary Ellen Zinser, who heads the Committee to Save the Gardens. Zinser led a candlelight vigil at the site Wednesday night and said many fellow gardeners will continue their fight to preserve the land, which they believe is a sacred American Indian site.

University officials said they do not anticipate a dramatic run-in with the gardeners, although a letter sent this month to each plot holder warned that unauthorized people would be cited for trespassing. The gardeners responded by circulating a hand-drawn flyer of a huge carrot containing the words: "Wanted Dead or Alive for Trespassing . . . any unauthorized vegetable."

The gardeners were ordered last fall to leave the site by the end of February to make way for the temporary parking lot. After much debate between the gardeners--who refused to leave--and university officials, the gardeners were given a two-week reprieve, which expired this week.

University acting President Karl Anatol said the school plans to donate one acre of university land to the Associated Students for use as an organic garden for students, faculty and staff. The site, he said, will be near the construction site of the campus athletic event center.

The university also renewed an offer to relocate the gardeners to a plot at EL Dorado Park, which the gardeners have refused because they said it may contain contaminated soil.

Anatol also announced this week that the university is seeking an archeology firm to survey the plot that was used for the garden and 22 adjacent acres.

The university eventually wants to develop and lease shops, restaurants and faculty housing on the land to raise money for the university. Officials have already asked developers to bid on the project.

"The development is one of the keys to solving our financial dilemma," Anatol said.

It is unclear what will happen to the land after the archeological dig is complete and a cultural review is written, which officials said could take up to 18 months. No state or federal laws prohibit construction on a historic site, but state agencies, including the university, must comply with a state law that requires consideration of environmental and cultural consequences of a construction project.

The survey was prompted by the discovery last month that the area and several other sites on campus are listed on the National Register of Historical Places and may be the site of Puvungna, an ancient American Indian village of the Gabrieleno Indians.

The site was listed in 1974 under the category "information potential," indicating that it contains significant clues about the lifestyles of ancient peoples, National Register Director Carol Schull said.

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