Vacant Lot Gardens in Oakland

20140413_0239Last month I worked on a story for Oakland magazine written by Cynthia Salaysay about a law that could help turn empty lots into gardens across California. AB 551 provides tax breaks for property owners “who promise to use their vacant property to produce food for  a minimum of five years.” The bill could really make a difference in Oakland where there are “337 acres of privately owned land” that could be used for growing food according to the author. It would allow the landowners to have their property accessed at the same rate as irrigated cropland.  Although the law is gaining momentum in San Francisco, it’s been slow to get going in Oakland where many of the lots are owned by out-of-town landlords who sometimes owe back taxes on the land. Read the full story here.

I photographed Diane Williams, above,  who helped start a garden at 5154 Ygnacio Blvd in Fruitvale, a lot that had been empty for 35 years. Even though the lot has no water she’s gotten  about a dozen fruit trees planted including the persimmon tree below and has involved the neighbors and the kids at the school across the street.


I also visited the Fruitvale Community Garden located at 2759 Foothill Blvd in Oakland where it looked like there were plenty of plots growing spring veggies. It looks like the guerrilla gardeners aren’t waiting for the law to change which is good news for anyone who just needs a little space to get the movement going locally.Fruitvale Community Garden located at 2759 Foothill Blvd. Photo by Lori Eanes.

Fruitvale Community Garden located at 2759 Foothill Blvd. Photo by Lori Eanes.


3 thoughts on “Vacant Lot Gardens in Oakland

  1. Diane Williams

    Hi Lori, thanks for including a bit about Your Neighborhood Garden. Even though I do not think the issue in the article affects us I appreciated the exposure. I think that the city owns our lot and taxes are owed to the county and/or city. The fact that the lot has been left empty in our ‘hood’ for > 35 years deserves being addressed. A social justice thought might be to involve the community in deciding what we might want done but there is no political will from the city or county [no $ story] to do that. I think if all of the interested parties to the idea of empty lots being turned into food production get together and literally make sure there is a local space in each district and then figure out a way to support the efforts of the community to develop it. There are so many ways we could maximize food production instead of being corporate slaves to whatever is going on with the land/water elsewhere. Just as community planners would plan for say libraries, youth, senior centers, recycling centers we should have local district wide gardens that are woven into the very fabric of our society. YNG is right across the street from the local elementary school and has been allowed to be a local dump for the community for over 35 years. Who is responsible for this level of neglect of a community? When I asked our local official what we should do – she suggested we buy it for maybe $100,000. It costs $12,000. just to hook up water let alone pay for it each month. We have beautified the neighborhood, added needed oxygen, supplied food in a food desert, educated adults/children, cleaned a filthy corner where 2 drains have been cleaned for 4 years now at no cost to the city and generally modeled the possibilities with little to no help/support for the city or county. We are between a rock and a hard place with the possibility that the land could be auctioned off without us even being notified by the city – like they tried last year. Any help or suggestions would be appreciated.
    Thanks again for your interest.
    Diane Williams, MPH

  2. Madeleine Key

    Hi Lisa and Diane,

    I am working on an article for the East Bay Express on a related topic – specifically, urban ag activists’ petition to the Planning Department to change growing food on vacant lots to “as of right” rather than requiring a conditional use permit. I would really like to get in touch with both of you! Diane, to interview you. And Lisa, to ask for your permission to use a photo of yours in the Express. I can be reached at my office at 510 879 3729 and

    Hope to hear from you!


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