Long live the garden!

Evan Tucker is the president, board of directors, Ron Mandella Community Garden

The Ron Mandella Community Garden is on the verge of destruction. Recently, the Capitol Area Development Agency, the agency that manages state land south of the Capitol, decided to test the garden’s soil and found portions of it contained arsenic, lead, DDT and PAH.

This is a blow not only to the Mandella Garden but also to all urban gardeners. If a 30-year-old, organic garden has these chemicals in its soil, what does that say about the rest of our city? If there are chemicals in our soil that pose health risks, we should search for ways to remedy this situation without destroying valuable public space or treasured gardens.

It is possible to use plants to clean up contaminated soil. This process, known as phytoremediation, has become increasing popular. Considerably cheaper than traditional methods of remediation, it allows for a site to be cleaned without removing all the soil and plants. This is only one of many non-invasive methods commonly used to clean up contaminated sites.

CADA’s proposal is to destroy the Mandella Garden, remove the soil and allow an out-of-state developer to build condos financed with more than $4 million in taxpayer subsidies.

If CADA is genuinely concerned about public health, the agency should be doing the Human Health Risk Assessment the county recommended. There has not yet been a scientific determination that the garden’s soil poses a risk to human health. The completion of an HHRA would clear up the issue of whether a past or future health risk for garden users exists.

Until recently, CADA has been ambivalent about whether an HHRA will be conducted. Even now, though CADA officials say they will conduct one, they can give no date for when it will begin.

The results of the soil tests present a challenge: to respond to the human needs for safety and community in a way that does not diminish either.

There is no reason to give up Sacramento’s oldest community garden, the second-highest producer of oxygen in one of the nation’s most polluted cities. It’s still a genuinely democratic, community-controlled, public space in a city where such things are scarce. It’s still one of the only cool spots in a city in which green space is vanishing under asphalt. It’s still an urban oasis, a valuable ecosystem and a community’s labor of love. It’s still worth fighting for.