Hmong Garden Will Have to Relocate

October 29, 2008 12:16:19 AM PDT
A nearly evenly divided Fresno City Council has failed to change plans to move a community garden to make way for a police substation. The garden, at Belmont and Dewitt in Southeast Fresno has been utilized by members of the Hmong community for more than a decade.The city ran into opposition when plans to move the garden and put a police substation in it's place were announced earlier this year. Supporters of keeping the Hmong community garden at the present location, dominated Tuesdays City Council meeting. Loxing Kiatoukaysi of the Hmong Community Association chastised the council's handling of the issue. He said:"I am very disappointed that you, this council let this small issue get out of proportion."

Peace Fresno activist Bill Simon accused the city of misleading the Hmong. "We are told Hmong leaders approved of moving the garden, but at two meetings with gardners I haven't heard one agree with the move." He said.

City Council Member Mike Dages made a motion to keep the park at it's present location, and move the proposed police substation to a new development at Fancher Creek. "The police station at Fancher Creek will definitely enhance the area. It will be better for Southeast Fresno." Dages told the crow.

But Fresno Police Chief Jerry Dyer and city Manager Andy Souza disagreed. Dyer maintains the Belmont and Dewitt location would better serve the community. Under the city's plan the Hmong Gardeners would get two additional places to grow their crops. Melody Park, near Ashlan and Fowler, and Al Radka Park, one mile East of the present garden.

City Council Member Paul Caprioglio who temporarily represents the area supports the deal. " This is not a black and white issue as some would like to portray it, There is compromise. There is the ability to reach a settlement that everyone can live with."

But some residents living near Melody Park objected to having a garden there. Monica Kaiser told the council, " The park belongs to the community it's a public playground for our children, it's for our families, for the people of Melody Park."

Emotional pleas were made to keep the garden where it has been for more than a decade, for the benefit of the mostly elderly gardeners. One member of the Southeast Asian community said it was a link between the old world and the new for the elderly immigrants to tend the garden. He said, "The garden is like the last strain we have left and I don't think we can afford to lose that because it means more than just a garden because it's our garden. It's the way we used to live over hundreds of years."

But in the end the council voted 3 to 3 on Dages plan to move the police substation. With Council Member Brian Calhoun absent, the tie vote fails. The plan is now to level the garden, and build the substation.

Dages said unless developer Ed Kashian, who offered the city a site for the substation in his Fancher Creek project offers to build it for the city, it's not likely the matter will be revisited. However, many in the Hmong community and their supporters are expected to continue trying to keep the garden where it is. Under the city plan they will be allowed to tend their crops until the end of the year and then move to one of the other locations by next March. Construction of the two million dollar police substation is expected to start after the first of the year.

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