The Foreclosure Garden Story

This blog is about gardening on a foreclosed property. Posts are mainly about the gardens progress with the occasional post about foreclosures.
To get up to speed on the project go to the first few posts which tell the story of the property and how the garden came into being.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

the Foreclosure Garden Project in perspective

Months after the garden was created and then removed, I'd like to say that I've had time to reflect on the project but I have been very busy with new projects and following the news of our national foreclosure scandal. The issue is first and foremost in much of the news. The banks are finally being taken to task on their foreclosure policies. Elizabeth Warren is in the house. Change may be possible. My husband and I continue to meet our mortgage responsibilities and now have 20 fruit trees planted on our tiny tiny property!
What is clear to me is that I have two months of fantastic memories of the garden versus one negative day. Those are good odds. I had a great time meeting my neighbors, talking with them about growing vegetables and the history of the neighborhood. I learned about recipes and what crops are favored in the many countries represented by our population. We all took an "easy come easy go" response to the destruction that took place when talking with each other in the days after its demise. I didn't feel devastated, just a little sad and a little resigned.
The house is still for sale. There were a flurry of visits by perspective buyers in the first days after the lawn went in and the sale sign went up. A couple in their late 40's came by to look at the place. The wife was very tired and came and sat on my stoop. the husband was very excited about the possibilities for the place. I was out tending the worlds smallest community garden in the parkway when he approached me to talk about the neighborhood.
"are you the green thumb around here?"
"One of them." I replied.
"If we get this house I really want to put in a garden in front. Could you help me with that?"
I couldn't help but laugh.
"well actually..." I began.
And although there were many offers on the property none have been acceptable to the bank.
Now the block is in the midst of a tagging war that I won't pretend to understand, but there is gun fire every weekend. the sidewalk in front of the foreclosure garden is covered in tags.
As I wrote in an earlier post, the taggers I have met are in the 12-14 range, young boys, accompanied by an older (16?) innitiated gang member. Young boys from rival gangs come on to this street and tag and are shot at by other taggers defending the street. The rivals shoot back.
The other day some detectives came by to look at the graffiti. They asked if I knew this tagger calling himself "ReCess."
It triggered the laugh cry confusion response induced by absurdly sad and yet incredibly telling events. The police are after a tagger named "ReCess." ( my friend Holly suggested maybe he was hangin' with his boys "timeout" and "teetertotter") these are little kids shooting at each other with guns. They are attacking and defending the area surrounding the homes of some powerful gang leaders. Gang leaders with little children of their own. What a mess.
Yet there are other ex gang members who will talk to the police in broad daylight on the street because they have little kids now and they don't want bullets flying around. Why are guns allowed in cities? Its so crazy. Our mural wasn't tagged, which is good news. And the Rampart Police department now have a mural program to decrease tagging starting up. I have written to volunteer with this program (scroll down to "Special Programs".
I continue to garden in the street and in my front yard. I greet or wave to most people who walk by. Little kids still stop at my gate to catch a glimpse of my funny looking chickens. I have given away lots of seedlings to people in the area. Gonzalo is saving seeds from some excellant giant yellow tomatoes I grew. I am helping my neighbor Cristina with a compost pile so she can make her own topsoil. Maria brought me a giant dragonfruit tree in bloom along with an avocado tree she started. My back neighbors gave me two mystery seedlings I have been growing now for two years and our Columbian neighbor excitedly ID'd it for me. Evidently it is a fruit tree called Inga Edulis that grows a long bean shaped fruit with the texture of cotton candy inside and the flavor of vanilla ice cream!!!! They have also been giving me lots of pomogranites from their tree and two tiny pomogranite seedlings.
As a Master Gardener I am required to do a minimum of 40 hours of volunteer work per year. In this capacity I am working with a local Filipino church group to start a vegetable garden on their grounds which reflects the recipes made by Filipino Americans. I am also working at LACAN, an organization on skid row, to create a roof-top vegetable garden in homemade self watering containers. And I continue to fantasize about the giant empty lot at the intersection of Coronado Street and Temple. I've heard its been empty for over 20 years. Imagine a giant community garden there!

Sunday, August 8, 2010

adopt a sunflower day

I am giving away a couple hundred sunflower seedlings and great pumpkin seedlings (just in time for Halloween!) for Coronado Street residents and environs. Hopefully people will plant the sunflowers in the parkway along the street. If you are in the area stop by for a couple of seedlings! The sunflowers are from seeds I saved from a massive sunzilla I grew last year that reached over 12 feet. I will be going door to door with them along the street in the next few days.
My neighbor J who had helped with the watering of the foreclosure garden stopped by and gave me apples from a relatives tree. He lives next door with his wife R and his two sons, both at Riverside. He had a daughter who died of Leukemia 12 years ago. She loved sunflowers and he often brings them to her grave site. The anniversary of her death is coming up on the 21st. J has Leukemia as well. He asked about my husbands recent operation and I told him he needed two more operations but that his insurance was refusing to pay for the last so he couldn't schedule the follow ups until the matter was resolved. He had the same problems. It wore one down, this constant bureaucratic harassment, especially when one is sick. J is a very good gardener and his balcony looks down into our back yard. But recently his landlord has said he can not keep any plants so he has had to give all the plants away. I wonder if it is a way of pressuring him to leave. I know that he has been there for many many years.
G and her family lived next door until they moved in with us. The landlord, who was her cousin, first started pressuring G to leave by making her get rid of all her plants. G had an amazing collecting of fruit trees. Avocados and guavas lined the back of the building and an alleyway. It was like a tropical forest. I was so amazed when I first saw it. It turned out that the landlords wife's daughter had fallen for G's son and they had run off and gotten married! The landlord was furious and kicked G and her family (son, daughter, daughter in law, husband and brother) and her 4 boxers out of the building. The whole family moved into our duplex rental- a one room studio- while they looked for a place. They bartered help with the garden and planted avocados and guavas as presents. They had come from Cuba in the 1990's- Cuba's special period as they called it- after the fall of the Soviet Union and the loss of most of their oil. I asked them to watch the documentary Power of Community; How Cuba Survived Peak Oil and tell me if it was an accurate depiction of Cuba. They said they would but warned me that they had never seen an accurate depiction of Cuba in America and were highly skeptical. But after watching it they were very excited. they felt it was truthful depiction. They miss Cuba. G's husband told me that when they first came to America and went to a grocery store they thought they had died and gone to heaven. there were big beautiful tomatoes in the middle of winter! But when they brought the produce home they were deeply disappointed in its flavor. It had looked so good and tasted watery. G's brother had spent many years farming organically in Cuba and had come over more recently. He said that in America, we give too much water to the ripening tomato, making them bigger and heavier and thus more expensive but less flavorful.
The landlord next door has gotten rid of three of the four tenants of the fourplex in the past year. He's an old man and owns many of the apartment buildings in the area and a couple of vacant lots. I know he has never fixed them up and never made repairs to the apartments. I am thinking about an accusation after one of my posts that I'm gentrifying the neighborhood. I think perhaps artists often do. I was once told by a bank property assessor that gay men and artists do wonders for property values. The new residents who have moved in next door are Latinos. They are just paying a lot more rent than the previous people. So does that count as gentrification? Its such a difficult accusation to hear. The gut reaction is to try and refute it, but what if its true? What if I am gentrifying the neighborhood with my murals and plants and street art openings and such? Its hard to contemplate especially since we are just scraping by and could so easily suffer foreclosure.
What if Bill's operations aren't covered? I heard that medical costs are the number one cause of foreclosures.
We finally decided we needed to replace our car which had self immolated on the 101 last year. Since then we have been riding motorcycles, but after an unfortunate yet potentially fatal incident with a bag of kitty litter strapped somewhat hastily to the back of my bike I had to admit we needed a car. We went out and test drove a 1972 BMW that had been turned into an electric vehicle and then we went to a smart car dealership. A new basic smart car lists for $11,900. Add on all the tax and it comes to 15 something. It was perfect. When we went to finance the car we were denied. Bill prides himself in his excellent credit score. He is the guy credit card companies hate. He always pays on time. Always. So why couldn't we finance the car? It turns out that because we applied for (and were denied at last try) the "Obama" Making Homes Affordable" program Chase had reported us to the credit bureau and now my husbands perfect credit score was in the toilet. Understand that we have never been late with a mortgage payment. All we did was apply for a program to reduce our monthly payments slightly. And we applied because (A) we qualified (B) Bill needs operations this year and will be out of work for perhaps a few months. (C) we needed to buy a new car.
This leaves me thinking about my own garden. Will it prove to be a foreclosure garden as well?
The sprinklers are back on over at 820 Coronado. The yard is now graced with a big "for sale" sign. So it goes.

Friday, July 30, 2010

The new sod

Today the new sod arrived as well as sprinklers to deliver water to the whole neighborhood! A homeless man was standing in front of the gate "showering" when I got home from work. Water is currently streaming down the gutter by the gallon. If this continues I'll see if I can divert some to the parkway garden.
My last conversation with the realtor revealed a few worrying details. First he said that the gang members had actually rented the house from him!!!! Everyone thought they had taken it over and were squatting and perhaps that's what happened eventually. I then wondered if I could actually figure out a price for how much tax payer money was spent getting the gang out of 820. Helicopters every weekend. Closing down the street on multiple occasions, subsequent investigations, etc, etc.
Now that the house has all that sod and the homeless have a nice cool place to shower maybe some nice family will move in and I can give them a pumpkin seedling.
I did go to my local B of A, expecting to be brushed off or given a phone number to an endless phone tree but instead was taken into the office of a banking center manager and was able to give an account of what happened along with a picture of the henchman. He took down a report and gave me his card.
A second neighbor told me today that he had also walked by henchman before he had the garden pulled out and said he was yelling into his cell phone about the garden so he was enraged by it before I went over there. This is some comfort since I thought he was just totally bonkers. I wonder if he would have been equally enraged had he gone to the house to find the front yard piled high with trash and weeds...
I was inspired to make use of one of the bullet holes in my house though! I am using it to tie up my errant bougainvillea!

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Blind Guerilla Gardener takes to the street

The foreclosure Garden blog is actively looking for stories about gardening during this housing bubble burst depression. I would like to feature stories about people gardening on foreclosed properties or gardening to help avoid foreclosure.
This is an inspiring video of a blind gardener beautifying his street in England. Enjoy!

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

The day After

This morning I was thinking about the conversation I had with the real estate guy Phil Missig who has a site called I had called him after the garden was destroyed and told him how disappointed I was with his decision to let his henchman destroy the garden. He claims it wasn't his decision but I get the feeling it was. He said the henchman was a "really nice guy" and "was great when you need someone like that on your side." hmmm.... He then went on to say that he was trying to get the remaining tenants out so he could sell the property.
So I did a little research this morning on tenants rights and found out that neither he nor the bank can legally evict the remaining tenants. They have lived there for 20 years. Here's the law for LA (this is different in different states and in California, in different counties):
You cannot be evicted in a foreclosure if:
1) You entered into your lease before the current mortgage was recorded: The first
exception applies if you entered into a lease before the mortgage that is the
subject of the current foreclosure was finalized. This can occur:
• If you entered into a lease with a prior owner of the property (e.g. the owner
you entered into the lease with is NOT the owner that holds the current
mortgage that is the subject of the foreclosure)
• the owner you entered into a lease with, refinanced (took out a loan on the
property) the property after you entered into a lease, which resulted in
In such cases,
The new owner may have to honor the lease or work out an arrangement
with you.
You are responsible to the new owner for rent from the date of sale
In some cases you may have to pay rent again and then attempt to recover
the overpayment from the previous owner.

So I printed this up and went to visit the neighbors in question. We had a nice chat and I gave them my phone number along with the info I printed just in case they should ever need it.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Last Day in the Garden

This morning the garden was doing beautifully. The mortgage tomatoes were gigantic,

and the corn was coming along so nicely.
But then I noticed a truck pull in to the back. My neighbor A came over and said he was concerned. Some man had been talking angrily about the garden. We decided to go talk to him. I was optimistic. The last crew that had been there had sealed up the crawl space under the house and some kittens were trapped inside. C who feeds and keeps track of all the neighborhood cats had come over and the guy had unscrewed the grates and let us put a have a heart trap in. We got one cat in the trap and had made sure all the cats were safetly out.

I went over and introduced myself as a neighbor who is concerned about the house and property. I asked if he had a business card. He told me to f*#k off and get off his property. I said I thought this was a foreclosed property but that if he owned it than I would leave. He said he worked for Bank of America and then threatened to call the police and swore at me in a very threatening manner. I tried to tell him I was just a concerned neighbor and if he were there to take care of the place than that was great but we had had some problems in the past with squatters. We have all heard stories of people showing up at foreclosed houses and stealing all the copper. I knew that Bank of America did not own the property, so I was suspicious.
The Mean Man reporting to the police that I am waving a gun at him...

I'm not sure if he was perhaps drunk because I didn't feel I had said anything by this point that was inappropriate, but he said he was going to call the police. I said I just wanted a business card from him and I would be on my way. He then said his name was Phil Missig, the realtor whose sign in the window promises the property will be "coming soon". Since I have met Phil Missig (his partner had sold us our house!), I was now very worried. He proceeded to call the police and report that I was waving a gun at him. A and I were thunderstruck at this guy's crazy behavior.

I then called Phil Missig and told him there was This Man claiming to be Him and claiming to work for B of A. He explained that B of A has some deal with the Bank of New York- which only owns part of the property but that Phil is trying to persuade the bank to sell. It all seems wildly complicated and doubtful since ownership is actually unclear. As I understand it, mortgages were bundled like stocks and sold off in pieces to make the banks seem as if they had less bad loans then they did. The neighbors had planted a small garden in the front yard as a way of keeping the house looking tidy. I asked Phil if this were alright and if he would let the garden remain. He said of course and that it was great that the community was taking care of the yard in this way. He then called The Man (who never told me his name), and told him to leave the garden.

So this is how the banks take care of their property...

It is a sad day for The Foreclosure Garden and for the people who have enjoyed watching it grow for the past few months. We managed to keep the building graffiti-free for three months.
I am not sure what to make of Phil. Evidently part of the property extends back to a house that enters by way of Merwin Street. He is actively trying to evict long term tenants so he can sell the property. I don't know them but so many renters have been driven from their homes, first because of the housing bubble, and now due to foreclosures. Just because a bank owns a property why should the tenants pay for their bad policies? He told me he asked the Mean Man to preserve the garden. I called Phil and told him I felt he was to blame for the garden's destruction. He called me back and apologized, but then said it was The Bank and not him who had hired the guy.

I never did get the guys name. I should try and get a contact name at B of A from Phil. I urged him to hire a local gardener to take care of the place but Phil says that's not his job.

I have started some sunflower seeds- about two hundred Sunzillas. Maybe that will be next? I will see what happens with the space.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

NPR's Marketplace modification madness interview

I sent my post from 6/11/10 as a letter to politicians and various news sources. Last week, while driving across the country from Vermont in a rental truck, I got an email from Marketplace asking if I could come by their Los Angeles studio to talk with them. Somewhere on RT 40, we said we couldn't make it but they asked if we could swing by an affiliate station in Albuquerque. I read part of my post (slightly edited) and then answered questions about our experiences with Chase Bank.
The show will air this weekend. You can also hear it online and read the letter at the marketplace website.


Our neighbor Jessica contacted me on Facebook a few days before our return to tell me that the corn was "like 9' tall!" I was eager to see how the gardens were all doing. Powdery mildew had invaded the pumpkin in both the foreclosure garden and the parkway garden and I had cut the infected leaves off before leaving on my trip.
When I got back I saw the corn was really 9' tall. Phil the real estate agent had obviously been by and moved his sign from the window now blocked by the corn to one with more visibility.
The day I left when I was mulching the garden I had seen a guy walk past a few times and then discreetly slip into the back driveway of the house. I remembered S saying that someone had been living back there but had figured he was re calling someone from before the foreclosure and gang takeover. I did see a door open into the back building later on that day. I will have to ask S. who it is. I don't want to interfere with his living arrangement. He's got to have permission from S. to be there anyway. We all get permission from S. whether asked for or not- he bestows his approval and thus it appears as if he had given approval. I tend to ask his opinion which then gives him a chance to approve or disapprove. As mayor this is his job.
I am at a loss with the pumpkin vines. last night I cut more infected leaves off. The cucumbers are looking a bit shabby but there are some massive green mortgage lifter tomatoes beginning to ripen. They really need a lot more support than the little poles I set up before I left. The powdery mildew pretty much killed all the pumpkin and squash plants that were crowding out the tomatoes in the parkway garden and now the tomatoes need more support. I'll have to figure that out. There are lots of green tomatoes. Maybe I should give up on staking them and just let them vine over the little raised bed. I feel so tired from our drive cross country drive and the unpacking and sorting that needs to be done that the thought of dealing with rogue vines is too much. I will need to ask Gonzalo what he thinks we should do.

Friday, July 23, 2010

Lasagna mulch

The day before leaving for three weeks on a trip to Vermont I got a bit worried about my gardens so I borrowed a truck and went to DaMoors Feed and Tack in Burbank to pick up some straw. A very young girl named Mallory who works there suggested I get one bale of straw and one bale of Alfalfa and layer the two. The straw is great mulch but the Alfalfa provides nitrogen. So instead of packing for my trip I spent the hours before my flight lasagna mulching the foreclosure garden and all my garden beds and the worlds smallest community garden (I think I'll start calling it the parkway garden from here on.)
I hooked up a hose with a nozzle at the FC garden so that the neighbors could thoroughly wet down the garden the next evening- the 4th of July- which can get a little out of hand on this block.
I then spent my whole flight feeling like such an idiot for putting all that flammable material down. Our tenant promised to be home and wet down the house gardens as well as keep an eye on them that night. Last year had been a pretty mild fourth but the year before....
The year before was when the gang had taken over the house and they put on a stadium display from the street in front of the garden. It was amazing. Giant guys in giant white t shirts hoisting crates of fireworks walked out into the middle of the street and set them all off at once while holding them above their heads. One younger guy dropped his crate and giant fireworks displays went shooting down the block, skimming the pavement. A new style was born. Meanwhile kids with bottle rockets took aim at one another on the sidewalk playing war while their parents looked on and laughed. Bill and I sat on the roof watching in amazement shouting greetings to neighbors through the growing clouds of smoke and trying to let go of our panicky worry for the safety of the kids' fingers.

Saturday, July 3, 2010

Celebrating Freedom in the world of self-regulated corporations

The following article appearing last month in Propublica, which does a great job exposing the Making Homes Affordable loan modification program as the disaster it is. We applied for this program in December because it seemed like such a great idea. As I have written in earlier posts, we are in this "logjam." And now, even with a near perfect credit score we have had credit cards cancelled and been denied loans just because we applied for the making homes affordable program. Our bank Chase, reports all applicants with the same message, that the applicant is negligent in paying their mortgage even if the applicant, like us, has never been late or missed a payment...
Here's the Propublica article. The comment to this article is especially interesting.

Loan Mod Logjam Continues for 265,000 Homeowners; Failures Jump

New data released Monday shows that the administration's mortgage modification program continues to be plagued by delays and disappointment for hundreds of thousands of homeowners.

Of the 1.2 million homeowners who have begun a modification in the last year, about 265,000 have been stuck in "trial" periods for six months, double the three months that trial periods are supposed to last.

Are you a homeowner who's struggling to pay your mortgage? Are you seeking a loan modification through the government program? We want to hear from you.

The number of homeowners dropped from the program also continues to rise, meaning that many homeowners can expect to wait more than half a year for a decision from their mortgage servicer only to then be dropped from the program.

You can see our interactive breakdown of the data here. It shows which mortgage servicers are primarily responsible for the continued logjam.

The delays have long been a problem with the program: we reported in January that nearly 100,000 homeowners had been stuck in a trial period for over six months. Homeowners and advocates frequently complain that mortgage servicers ask for the same documents over and over, give contradictory information, and make mistakes. Nearly 1,000 homeowners have written to ProPublica over the last year to tell us their stories about seeking a mortgage modification, and we continue to hear the same complaints.

The prolonged trials hurt homeowners by damaging their credit, increasing the balance of their mortgage, and preventing them from saving for the possibility of foreclosure. Homeowners who are rejected after prolonged trials sometimes find themselves worse off than if they'd never been in a trial.

As we reported back in February, JPMorgan Chase, one of the largest mortgage servicers, has a particularly large backlog. The Treasury Department reports (PDF) that approximately 72 percent of its active trials, approximately 86,000 homeowners, have been in trials for longer than six months. Chase spokeswoman Christine Holevas pointed to a "number of steps" that Chase had taken to improve its performance, such as hiring additional staff and holding "homeowner's assistance" events, but did not offer an explanation for why it has lagged so far behind the other servicers.

Saxon Mortgage, a much smaller servicer that is a subsidiary of Morgan Stanley, had a similarly large backlog. A spokesperson did not respond to our question on Monday, but told us three months ago that the company had "launched a number of proactive programs" to clear the backlog.

During a conference call Monday, administration officials said they have posted the data about the backlogs in order to put pressure on the lagging servicers. At the same time, Phyllis Caldwell, a Treasury official heading the mortgage modification program, offered a host of reasons for why servicers might be lagging, ranging from double-checking on denials to making sure in-house alternatives are available for those who are dropped from the government program.

Treasury has long warned servicers that they need to clear the backlogs, but it has also failed to crack down. The government issued rules in late December, warning that lenience would end at the end of February. When we reported on the backlog in February, a Treasury spokesperson warned that lagging servicers could face penalties. Three months later, no penalties have been levied. Caldwell and TARP chief Herb Allison said that they'd recently sat down with servicers, who had committed to clearing their backlog by the end of June.

Of course, there are two ways the backlog could be cleared: either through permanent modifications or from homeowners being dropped from the program.

Treasury officials have estimated that between one-third and one-half of all trials will fail. Currently, that rate is running closer to one-half. So far, nearly as many homeowners have been dropped from the program (278,000) as have begun a permanent mod (299,000). Allison and Caldwell said they expected the cancellations to continue to rise as the servicers cleared their backlogs.

Trials can be canceled because the homeowners don't make the trial payments or are otherwise disqualified by the servicers. As we have reported, those disqualifications have sometimes been illegitimate. The officials said disputations by homeowners or housing counselors are another reason for the continued backlog.

Our interactive chart shows the cancellation rate at each of the larger servicers in the program. Some are already near 50 percent. Some have denials that are artificially low. Bank of America, for instance, by far the largest servicer, has canceled only about 32,000 modifications, about 11 percent of the number of trials started so far. But the bank said last week that it was in the process of mailing "thousands" of homeowners denial letters.

For the homeowners who have successfully navigated the program and received permanent mortgage modifications, there was some good news and bad news in Monday's numbers. The average homeowner in the program saves about $516 per month on the lower mortgage payment, Treasury reported. But that homeowner is also struggling with a sizable amount of other debt: even with the lower mortgage payment, about 64 percent of the average homeowner's pre-tax income is eaten up by monthly debt payments (credit cards, car payments, second mortgage, etc.), a statistic that has made some observers very skeptical about the prospect for these modifications to last. Already, more than 3,700 homeowners who were granted permanent mods have fallen out of the program.



May 20, 10:55 p.m.

It is important to note that when you are in the “trial mod” period, you are actually falling further behind in your payments. The bank wont tell you this. Each trial mod payment is only a half payment and puts you 1/2 month behind. Furthermore, it is in the banks best financial interest not to modify because the loans are insured for original amount of the principal in the event you default. Once the home is foreclosed on, the bank buys back the property (after receiving the insurance payment of the full original principal) and sells it at a substantial profit. The banks are NOT losing money, and in fact makes ungodly profits from the foreclosures.

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

appearance of the mow and blow guys

Neighbor Mike stopped by my house early this morning after a jog. I was standing outside in my pajamas examining a volunteer pumpkin growing in a less than convenient spot.
Mow and Blow guys are in front of the foreclosure garden.
Oh oh.
I stepped out onto the street and peered down. There were others down the block doing the same.
We all watched as a father and son team pulled out the weed-wacker and went to work on the weeds on the sidewalk. They then walked along the trash strewn driveway leaving the garden untouched.
They soon reappeared from the back of the house with a couple of full trash bags that they loaded in their truck and drove away. I walked down the street to take a look. The drive was clear of trash. the garden was okay.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Foreclosure Garden Pumpkin Soup

I made a meal from the first two small sugar pumpkins grown in the foreclosure garden from a recipe in "Vegetable Soups from the Kitchen of Deborah Madison." This soup is called Fundamental Squash Soup with Sage. It's so great to cook with homegrown ingredients, especially now that I'm growing herbs. I think the value of using the produce while fresh cuts down on my usual procrastination around cooking. I am not, like so many urban gardeners, a foodie nor do I have a history of enjoying cooking. Cooking is work and it takes time and attention I like to garden. My husband, on the other hand, is an excellent cook. He cooks with calm and patience. I tend to not think about food until I'm really really hungry, which is when calm and patience are in short supply.Hence I snack and then lose interest in cooking a meal. But preparing something homegrown pricks my attention. I am curious to see if what I grew is tasty, what it looks like on the inside and how I did as a gardener.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Elizabeth Warren on why the making homes affordable plan is flawed

The Huffington Post has a great clip of Elizabeth Warren grilling Timothy Geithner on the Obama plan Making Homes Affordable. Very satisfying to know someone's paying attention.
thank you Elizabeth Warren!

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Foreclosure Gardening Legalese

Sec. 602. .... every person who willfully
commits a trespass by any of the following acts is guilty of a
(1)(d) Digging, taking, or carrying away from any lot situated within
the limits of any incorporated city, without the license of the
owner or legal occupant, any earth, soil, or stone.
(2) In order for there to be a violation of this subdivision, the
trespass signs under paragraph (1) must be displayed at intervals not
less than three per mile along all exterior boundaries and at all
roads and trails entering the land.
(l) Entering any lands under cultivation or enclosed by fence,
belonging to, or occupied by, another, or entering upon uncultivated
or unenclosed lands where signs forbidding trespass are displayed at
intervals not less than three to the mile along all exterior
boundaries ... without the written permission of the owner of the land, the owner's agent or of
the person in lawful possession, and
(1) Refusing or failing to leave the lands immediately upon being
requested by the owner of the land, the owner's agent or by the
person in lawful possession to leave the lands, or
(2) Tearing down, mutilating, or destroying any sign, signboard,
or notice forbidding trespass or hunting on the lands, or
(3) Removing, injuring, unlocking, or tampering with any lock on
any gate on or leading into the lands, or
(o) Refusing or failing to leave land, real property, or
structures belonging to or lawfully occupied by another and not open
to the general public, upon being requested to leave by (1) a peace
officer at the request of the owner, the owner's agent, or the person
in lawful possession, and upon being informed by the peace officer
that he or she is acting at the request of the owner, the owner's
agent, or the person in lawful possession, or (2) the owner, the
owner's agent, or the person in lawful possession.
In case you want to start your own Foreclosure garden, a friend did some research and came up with the following laws:
602.8. (a) Any person who without the written permission of the
landowner, the owner's agent, or the person in lawful possession of
the land, willfully enters any lands under cultivation or enclosed by
fence, belonging to, or occupied by, another, or who willfully
enters upon uncultivated or unenclosed lands where signs forbidding
trespass are displayed at intervals not less than three to the mile
along all exterior boundaries and at all roads and trails entering
the lands, is guilty of a public offense.
(b) Any person convicted of a violation of subdivision (a) shall
be punished as follows:
(1) A first offense is an infraction punishable by a fine of
seventy-five dollars ($75

powdery mildew

I noticed some powdery mildew developing on the massive pumpkin when I walked by yesterday. Last year this stuff invaded my squash crop and by the time I decided to act it was too late. This year I was prepared and today I went out armed with a spray bottle of milk. I sprayed all the leaves that had any spots on them. I have never tried this technique but it was advocated as the solution by the master gardener course I took. I will see how it works. I actually only had half and half which I cut with water. Usually milk is also cut with water by half according to my text book. I haven't been watering the garden much in the past two weeks. I showed Gonzalo where I hide the wrench and have noted that someone is watering. It could also be Javier. But today it was bone dry so I'll water it tomorrow morning. I harvested some of the cucumbers. There were lots and people are taking them. Again, maybe G or J or S or maybe others. S seems to think he needs to defend the garden against thieves but I've been trying to convince him that if people take the vegetables that means they really need it or really want it and that's a good thing. After all its not mine, really. I'm not begrudging anyone a cucumber. Secretly I'm flattered. Today I took three big cucumbers home. I twist tied the vines to the fence in hopes that the vines will cover the ugly chain link.

I met a neighbor named N stopped by to chat. She wanted to know if I was buying the house. I said no and told her it is a foreclosure. I asked her if she remembered the people who were displaced during the buying and selling frenzy but she didn't. I'm curious about the last tenants, who were they and where they moved to- and what was their inducement to move. Had they been paid the proper amount to leave or were they told the new owner would be moving in. She didn't remember who lived there however she did remember what went on at what is now my house. She had worked to get the store closed down for a long time. It was a big gang hangout and sold alcohol to minors. She was curious why I was gardening on at the foreclosure but said she really liked it now since it wasn't filled with trash and weeds. I told her that technically it was a misdemeanor and I could be fined 75. if the bank found out and complained and i figured it was worth the risk.
I harvested more but these were all that were left by the time I got home.

Friday, June 11, 2010

Chase owns BP, makes tons of money this month, and scams the little guy

Making homes affordable Chase Scam:
Making Home Affordable is a government program that, if approved by the government, a homeowner can then apply to their mortgage holder to have the monthly payments of their mortgage lowered to 31% of their income. The homeowner still owes the same amount, but the amount paid back per month is income sensitive.
But I suspect folks over at Chase have been reading a lot of Kafka lately and they’ve been inspired to new heights of brilliance in order to escape ever having to actually grant an MHA modification. They simply construct ways to lose paperwork. It’s so elegant in its simplicity yet its baffled and then destroyed thousands of people’s lives who were diligently trying to provide the required papers.
These people are caught in a terrible loop of Chase "losing Documentation" and making people continually re-send in forms. FOR YEARS. We even had a mortgage specialist at a Chase bank branch check all of our paperwork and fax them to the appropriate place only to have them claim they didn't receive all the required information.
One gorgeous example of the devious cleverness of Chase is a scam based on their own bank statement paperwork. Please admire its Kafka-esque brilliance.
On Chase bank statements the last page always reads "left intentionally blank" but they do not number this last page. For example, a Chase account may have 6 pages and all the pages say, i.e., 1 of 6, 2 of 6, et cetera, but page 6, the blank one, is not numbered 6 of 6. We have been continually turned down for an MHA because we are not sending them, Chase- holder of our mortgage and the bank where we have our accounts- complete bank statements even though we do send them that 6th page. Since it doesn't say 6 of 6 they claim our application isn't complete and make us start all over from the very beginning. We’re only going on Month 7 in the Chase Paper chase. Evidently that's nothing, most people who have tried have been trying for twice this long. Many, many people have already lost their homes because of this scam.
There are some websites devoted to this issue with Chase bank. Speculation is that they string people along who believe they might actually receive a modification so that they continue to pay a little longer before the inevitable foreclosure.
the websight Propublica is doing a great job tracking this issue.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

6/9/10 the first vegetables!

The first vegetable: a japanese trellis cucumber!!! (I think...) I don't have a stellar memory nor good habits when it comes to labelling what I grow. But I'm so excited!

There's a lot of them!
Might make it to the height of an elephants eye by the fourth of July. But are there enough plants to get all the corn pollinated? The kernels that Gonzalo donated were purplish and the bean seeds were reddish. That's all I know.

Another mystery vegetable:I had this growing in a pot at my house. I had thrown some seeds in a while back and lost track. I think it is a pumpkin. Last year I grew mini sugar pumpkins so I am guessing its a relation.
Not really sure if the house looks any better from a distance but passersby often smile and comment that the plants look beautiful. I guess i could have arranged them differently. I don't know much about garden design so I kept it simple. We'll see how it works out in the next few months.

5/19/10 Crime and Gardening

Up til now I had been carting water in 5 gallon buckets from my house on a little cart. I kept thinking about just how well all the weeds had been doing and about how amazing the soil seemed to be, moist light, and with lots of earthworms. I wondered if there was a water leak. But there wasn't supposed to be any water on the site. It was supposed to have been shut off... I eyed the spigot in the yard dubiously, then ran home for a wrench...
And we had water! This would make things much easier but much less ethically clear. If I used the water from the house I would be stealing. Hmmmm... I'd be doing the wrong thing for the right reason.
Already news of the foreclosure garden had gotten some heat. I had posted an innocent little blog write-up about the project on my husbands blog The hairy prone companion which I then forwarded to my master gardeners yahoo group. It seemed to really anger some folks (and this was before I was Stealing water!) The fact that I was trespassing seemed to make some believe I would destroy the good name of the group, and of gardening. I had no right. Then came my defenders, equally horrified but at the naysayers. A small battle ensued. I got a lot of mail. All mention of foreclosure gardening was removed from the sight. I had carefully explained about the neighborhood, the gangs, the shootings and the squatters. But to no avail. Now I was about to start stealing to add to my gardening crimes.
I wrenched the spigot open and smiled at all that beautiful water. I'll just keep track of what I use and pay for it if "they" want me to.
Issue resolved. A slippery slope? Maybe. But sometimes its best not to try for saintliness. I am a water thief. Things could be worse.

4/30/10 the first plants

The first plants...
all got eaten by slugs and snails. Actually, not all of them. I planted a row of sunflowers along the row closest to the house. they all got eaten and all the cucumbers. So out with the sluggo and wait a few days before replanting.

And then One Day in April

I walked by the foreclosed house that had been the sight of so much trouble in the past few years. I walked up the stairs and opened the unlocked gate and I just started pulling out all the weeds. Hours went by. I couldn't stop. Neighbors walked by. Many asked me: "You buy this place?" and I should my head, "Nope" and I smiled a guilty smile and they laughed.
There had been quite a bit of rainfall and the weeds came out easily, revealing a really nice soil I was pretty amazed. We have clay, heavy heavy clay, in these parts. But this stuff had some loam to it, and earthworms! What was expected to be the back breaking work of breaking up clay pan was cake.

Gonzalo walked by and offered to help. I worked with a garden fork while he loosened the soil and created rows wit the pick axe. The man has technique. He then went to his house to get seeds he had saved from his garden in south central.

Sal saw me pulling up weeds. He was taking care of his nephew, a little boy who enjoyed giving the finger to passersby and shrieking, often. Now I am no parent, I like kids but prefer to play a peripheral role in their lives. The kid came over and wanted to work so we gave him a patch of ground and he battled the monster Bermuda grass and labored at removing the big heavy rocks.
He didn't shriek once.

The Smallest Community Garden in LA

The smallest community garden
One day in early April I came out of my driveway to find one of my neighbors, Gonzalo, leaning over the planter in front of my house. He was surreptitiously dropping seeds into the planter I hadn't gotten around to planting. "You know if you plant it it's yours" I hollered out to him. He laughed and hollered back. Okay! Why not seed some of the other planters? Okay! But then they are yours. Gonzalo considered for a moment. Maybe Javier and Sal also. Sounds good.
Soon after that corn and beans started appearing. I had planted some tomatoes in the the parkway planter and soon squashes that Gonzalo had planted started coming up along with volunteer sunflowers from last years planting. Sal and Javier live next door. Sal considers himself the Mayor of the neighborhood. He told us when we first moved in that if we had any problems with anyone to talk to him first. He'd sort it out. And while having someone stand sentinel most of the day has its benefits it also means on occasion police will run through my back yard pistols out. These days he seems mostly to take care of the grandchildren, violet and Jasmine. Javier lives on the second floor of the two story apartment building next door. He lives with his wife Rosa. He has two sons. One of them is at the police academy and the other at UC Riverside. I heard he had a daughter but she died of Leukemia. He has Leukemia as well. He used to keep birds on his balcony but their was trouble with his landlord so he no longer has any. I see Javier everyday. When I am working in my backyard he and his family wave and we chat over the wall, about the chickens and plants.
Gonzalo lives on the next block down towards the highway. He lives in a building where Javier used to live. Gonzalo is at war with his landlord. Evidently, part of the ceiling fell in and on top of Gonzalo, breaking some ribs and giving him a concussion. the landlord said he had no insurance so he couldn't pay Gonzalo any money. Gonzalo has been trying to get him to pay. He finally offered him 2500 but Gonzalo felt it wasn't enough. I think he should have taken the money but he said no.
Gonzalo used to have a farm at south central and he is interviewed in the documentary "The Garden." I think that whole situation really broke his spirit. He had a beautiful big garden there. Now he had the little box in front of my house.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

local graffiti

gang graffiti
One night I came home and a bunch of 11 year olds were tagging my wall. A friend was dropping me off, a friend who is terrified of my neighborhood. I jumped out of the car and walked up to the kids. Umm you guys? I faltered. Um do you think you could um not do that um here....
They stopped and looked at me. They were incredibly clean cut little Latino kids. One had glasses and a polo shirt on. They were spraying my wall with there arm extended straight up for maximum height (about my eye level) These kids, were they even eleven? A very very very large man approached in a very large very white over sized t-shirt. May i help you ma'am? My names grande. this is my crew." I looked up at the mountain of a kid. Well I stuttered. Its just that I live here and I'm an artist and I really have nothing against graffiti but umm this just well um.. I stuttered and faltered out an embarrassment of excuses while trying to remain uh OK hip I guess. I still cringe. Grande Smiled. Sure ma'am. We'll paint over it. Oh thanks okay. well. Have a good night. um grande. Nice to meet you. Maybe they could get other color spray paint besides just the black... goodnight.
My poor Friend sat rigid in her car looking at me horrified. I tapped on her window and she rolled it down a notch. thanks for the ride. Are you insane? they could have sprayed you in the face they do that. There was just a big article about it. Oh. I found myself apologising.
When I woke the next morning I went outside. The wall had been painted over.
No locks were put on the gates and there were no "no trespassing signs" put up by the last crew or any of the previous crews that were sent out in response to numerous health code violations phoned in by concerned neighbors.

Monday, May 31, 2010

The Foreclosure Garden. Before.

April 18, 2010
I have walked by this house every day for 3 years. 818 Coronado Street has been in foreclosure since 2007. That's the year Bill and I first moved to the neighborhood. A classic example of the housing bubble, it sold in 2004 for $570,ooo. It was then sold again ONE YEAR LATER for $810,000. Neighbors don't recall any "improvements" made to the property during this time. The person who bought the property basically bought it for virtually no money down, having taken out two loans, one for 648,0000 and another for 81,000. (648 + 81= 729. 810-729=81) People frequently used these sorts of equations in the no money down sub prime loan business. Basically, on paper you have an initial loan of 648 which means you owe 162, so you get a second loan of half of that,or 81 which equals 729. You now owe 81. You use the second loan of 81 to pay off the remaining balance. Yup.
So the person who sold the overvalued property in 2004 and probably didn't' actually ever put any money down or put any money into the property walked away with $240,000.
The next owner kicked out all the tenants so she could "flip" the triplex for an additional $200,000. When we were trying to by our house down the block at 812 there were fliers listing the house at a million +. But $810 got left holding the bag. The house got no buyers so she bailed.
I know all this because a friend in real estate gave me the property details when the gang moved in and I was trying to contact the "owners"
In 2008 a tenant appeared. A clean cut well mannered and friendly Asian kid named Tim. Tim had two dogs and wore khaki shorts and polo shorts and was completely unassuming, at least at first. Neighbors thought it a bit odd he had old sheets tacked up in the front windows. Hadn't he arrived in a moving van? His dogs got out a few times and I helped catch them and return them.
Perfectly normal thing to happen. Nothing really odd.
Then I started seeing him with the local gang bangers. That seemed odd. Then it began.
the gang began to occupy the house. Big guys dressed identically stood hanging out at the house. Every weekend the house opened up to giant parties with bonfires on the street. They burned everything. Music shook the windows of houses down the blocks. 50 to 100 big guys, and some girls stood around "partying" Rival gangs drove by and shot at them. They shot back. The helicopters began swarming every weekend. they arrived long before the cruisers. The block was frequently shut down to traffic. the police would arrive and zip tie the "partiers" hands behind their backs and line them up starting in front of our house and continuing down the block.
The police finally got a gang injunction against the local gang, which made it illegal for more than three known members to congregate at any one place in public. For a while the parties continued. The gang erected a giant tarp and surrounded the house and yard with it. But the busts continued on a weekly basis. One day Tim disappeared as did the dogs. The house stood empty, graffitied, with trash piled in the front"lawn" The parties stopped.
After a few months a terrible odor started emitting from the house. The health inspectors were called. Weeks later a crew in a pickup truck arrived to "clean" the house out. They had no water so I gave them bucket fulls. I asked them what it was like. One guy said "I'll put it to you this way" there were people living in their but their ain't no plumbing. Whooo it is nasty!" and some dead animals, maybe a cat or something..."
Months later another crew arrived and painted over the mounting graffiti.
Then a construction crew spent a week or two cleaning and fixing and painting.
Then nothing. No "no trespassing" signs. No locks on the gates.
The place sat. Weeds grew prodigiously. A relative calm ensued.