Thursday, July 23, 2009
This week, California American Water contractors damaged part of a Seaside garden Cal Am once recognized volunteers for building.
Cal Am contractors Monterey Peninsula Engineering ripped native plants out of a roughly 24-by-11-foot rectangle in the drought-resistant community garden on the corner of Fremont and Canyon Del Rey boulevards.
Years ago Cal Am deemed the garden, created and maintained by the all-volunteer Seaside Green Team, the best local example of public drought-resistant landscaping.
On the night of July 15, Green Team ringleader Mary Wilson found a bulldozer and a backhoe parked where drought-resistant native plants had been, along with torn-up drip lines. “There were piles of plants and scraped soil around them,” she says.
Cal Am is replacing a valve at the site as part of a larger project to improve aquifer storage.
On hearing news of the damage, Sustainable Seaside member Kay Cline stopped by the garden. “I was shocked to see what was done,” she wrote in an e-mail to her group. “How sad that there wasn’t more communication about what needed to happen.”
By noon July 17, the excavation area had been covered with plywood and fenced off. Next to it, 15-gallon pots of manzanita and sage sat on freshly scraped earth.
The work was not intially OK’d by the city of Seaside, according to an e-mail to Wilson from city Public Works Manager Tim O’Halloran. “Cal Am located the valve outside of the road, within the area of the garden, [and] cleared and excavated the area without our knowledge or permission,” he wrote.
Cal Am spokesman Kevin Tilden says the company has an encroachment permit to work on the public right-of-way.
O’Halloran contacted Cal Am and directed the company to restore the damaged area “to the city’s satisfaction,” which Cal Am agreed to do with input from Green Team volunteers, according to O’Halloran’s e-mail.
Meredith Harvan of Roseville-based Burrell Consulting Group, which is observing the work for Cal Am, says the deep excavation was necessary to reach the valve. “The city made them aware these are native plants and this is a community garden,” he says. “Cal Am and Monterey Peninsula Engineering said, ‘No problem, we’ll replace the plants that are damaged with similar varieties.’”
Tilden concurs: “It’ll be restored to as close to its previous condition as we can get.”
But Wilson is still heartsick over what was lost in the 10-year-old garden, including a rare indigenous Fort Ord manzanita and plants seeded at the UC Santa Cruz arboretum. “They didn’t get what was there,” she says. “The whole point of it was to be a drought-resistant demonstration garden.”
On July 18, during the Green Team’s usual monthly work session, Wilson and the other volunteers reviewed the damage and decided MPE should not plant the replacements it purchased. Before anything else is done, Wilson said, the Green Team needs to meet with the city to develop a restoration plan.
“I’m hoping this will turn into a win-win situation,” she says, “to get the garden into better shape than it was before.”