Oakland: Cracking Down on Farming?

According to police statistics, Oakland has the highest crime rate and slowest police response time of any major California city. In fact, the rate of violent crime in Oakland is more than twice the average rate of the top ten other California cities.

So naturally, Oakland has chosen to crack down on crime, starting with, yes, those dangerous urban farmers. In its wisdom, Oakland has in its sights not just any farmer, but Novella Carpenter, an urban farmer who’s brought national attention to the good side of life in our fair city (the kind of positive national attention that’s a rare commodity around here).

Author of “Farm City: The Education of an Urban Farmer,” (which Publishers Weekly called an “utterly enchanting book” and the New York Times called “…a consistently involving book that includes one of the purest expressions of happiness I’ve read in a while”), Carpenter has been growing food and raising barnyard animals on her patch of lawn in Oakland for ten years. But apparently someone complained about her animals (she keeps bees, chickens, and goats), and a “city guy” threatened her with a $5,000 fine, telling Carpenter that the city intended to “use me as an example,” as she explained on her blog.

An example of what? Of how stupidly the city of Oakland can treat someone who’s a bright spot in a town that’s otherwise (often unfairly) seen as nothing more than a dangerous, blighted outpost of our sister city across the Bay?

If you think the city of Oakland should have its priorities straightened out, and maybe re-think its threats against a national treasure in our very backyard, please take a moment to send a quick email message to Mayor Jean Quan.

Comments Closed


  1. Anita
    Posted March 31, 2011 at 1:23 pm | Permalink

    PREACH. Thanks for bringing this to our attention.

  2. Posted March 31, 2011 at 4:05 pm | Permalink

    My correspondence with Councilwomen Nancy Nadel:

    From: Nadel, Nancy [NNadel@oaklandnet.com]
    Sent: Thursday, March 31, 2011 3:30 PM
    To: Charles Margulis
    Subject: Re: Urge Mayor Quan to Re-Think Threats Against Urban Farm

    I have inquired into Novella’s allegations. We are on furlough today and tomorrow so the fact of the case from the code enforcement perspective will not be available until next week.

    Novella describes her situation as an attack on a chard grower but in reality I think she has many animals (not just chickens which are allowed under certain conditions) and she is selling out of her location.

    I think the problem is likely that her property is zoned residential. There is no problem with growing food on such a parcel, but once you have animals that are not permitted in a residential parcel and have customer traffic from selling out of a residential parcel, the requirements change and I believe that in a dense urban environment the rules should be different for those activities.

    Novella’s fame does not remove her from having to obey the rules.

    Hope you are well and enjoying the sunny weather.

    Nancy Nadel

    From: Charles Margulis
    Sent: Thursday, March 31, 2011 4:01 PM
    To: Nadel, Nancy
    Subject: RE: Urge Mayor Quan to Re-Think Threats Against Urban Farm

    I am not suggesting that her fame exempts her from regulations. I’m suggesting that no one deserves the heavy-handed treatment demonstrated by the city, and that this treatment is especially thoughtless and ill-conceived when excercised against someone who represents Oakland so well.

    How difficult would it be to:
    kindly visit the neighbor who made the complaint;
    kindly visit Novella and discuss the problem; and
    come up with a reasonable solution without harassing or threatening anyone?

    Apparently too difficult for anyone in City government.

    I find it disturbing that no one from the City has offered in their responses that maybe a path like this could resolve the problem. Instead, the responses seem intent to discredit Novella for referring to herself as a chard grower, as if she was hiding the issue of her animals (even though in her post she acknowledged the neighbor’s concern was around animal control). This gives me little hope that the City will handle the situation more thoughtfully moving forward. However, I will try to remain hopeful.
    Charles Margulis

  3. Posted March 31, 2011 at 4:36 pm | Permalink

    From: Nadel, Nancy [NNadel@oaklandnet.com]
    Sent: Thursday, March 31, 2011 4:14 PM
    To: Charles Margulis
    Subject: Re: Urge Mayor Quan to Re-Think Threats Against Urban Farm

    Dear Charles,

    Thank you for your suggestion. Our code enforcement staff are not trained mediators nor do they have enough time to do the kind of prep work needed to mediate all complaints. If we were to try to mediate this one, we can’t show favoritism and not do it in other cases. The city is broke and has very limited staff at this time. It will be a miracle if we don’t become insolvent like all the other cities that are struggling after the financial collapse.

    I agree that a threatening manner from the code enforcement office is unnecessary but we also don’t know how she addressed him. That’s why I’m trying to get all the facts before reaching a conclusion.

    Novella has never reached out to me to find out what she can and cannot do on her parcel in response to its zoning. I think she too needs to be conscious of the impacts of her farm on neighbors and reach out to them to see if she can address their concerns.


    From: Charles Margulis
    Sent: Thursday, March 31, 2011 4:33 PM
    To: Nadel, Nancy
    Subject: RE: Urge Mayor Quan to Re-Think Threats Against Urban Farm

    Dear Nancy -
    I would say that a threatening manner from a code enforcement officer is more than “unnecessary,” regardless of how the officer is addressed (or is civility not in their training either?) — and again, I wonder why you seem to suggest that the burden should be on Novella to demonstrate that she did not provoke the city staff.

    I did not suggest that the code enforcer should be trained to mediate this dispute (and I’m not sure how this has anything to do with the city’s budgetary problems — of which I’m only too well aware, since I found out after visiting several public schools for my kindergarten-entering daughter and found that many of them had no heat this winter. But I digress). But I would hope that at the very least there would be someone in City government who can respond to this problem without casting aspersions on either party.