The community garden located outside the Berkeley Post Office was removed by United States Postal Service, or USPS, maintenance workers Wednesday, after two years of ongoing disputes between the post office and protesters.
The garden was put in place in late 2014 when homeless activists began occupying the grounds in protest of the sale of the post office to a privately owned property management company. The homeless encampment was disbanded in April, after city police and postal service workers informed the protesters that they were trespassing on government property.
Although the removal of protesters in April had no effect on the garden, a fence was set up around the garden approximately one month later, making it impossible for community members to access and tend to the garden.
“There was no reason to put up the fence, except to show who is in charge,” said Mike Zint, a member of Berkeley’s homeless community and cofounder of homeless advocacy group First They Came for the Homeless, in an email. “This is a slap in the face to the hundreds of people who fought against the theft of the commons.”
According to Zint, the garden was put in place for the people of Berkeley to claim ownership of land that belongs to the community. He added that many community members donated plants, materials and their own time to the garden.
“The garden was utilized by all kinds of people. Homeless and housed alike were harvesting leaves off the spinach, lettuces and chard,” Zint said. “It cleaned up and revitalized a patch of dirt that was contaminated with litter and an eyesore.”
While Zint argues that it is the people who own post offices, Gus Ruiz, a spokesperson for the USPS, said the encampments and garden were removed because they were not appropriate uses of federal property. Ruiz added that many customers had complained about the “unsightly and unsafe area” around the post office.
“Our maintenance people removed anything non-postal installed, displayed or planted when the fencing went up, to protect our property from the homeless encampments,” Ruiz said in a written statement. “Since the encampments and the garden were not legitimate use of Federal property, we had them removed.”
The removal of the garden occurred over the course of two weeks, according to Guy “Mike” Lee, another member of the city’s homeless community and organizer for First They Came for the Homeless. Lee added that while there has been talk of bringing back the garden, the fence is separating the community from the garden.
“We were attempting to grow our own food and provide it to the community and that actually started happening,” Lee said. “I think it was symbolic of us having ownership over that property.”