|Image: Karl Tricamo|
Stay-at-home dad Karl Tricamo was another unsuspecting gardener just going about his favorite hobby and following the rules. He loves to garden with his 55 heirlooms and dislikes GMOs and pesticides.
But, like so many others now, he was pushed around and literally stalked by "Code Enforcers" out to aggressively eradicate any "nuisance" that doesn't match the rest of their desired Stepford neighborhood. This is after he, also like many targeted for garden deconstruction, painstakingly followed the rules .
“I just thought it would be an excellent way to help provide for my family,” he said . “People have been gardening since the beginning of human civilization, and the First Lady has even been setting an example by gardening at the White House! I never expected it to be so controversial.”
City officials in Ferguson, Missouri do not care if someone is trying to feed his family on his turf; so they literally cited Tricamo's landlord with 'Failure to meet the minimum standards of the City of Ferguson exterior appearance code.'
Now, doesn't that sound like a highly subjective code? It would, had it been an actual code instead of an intimidation tactic.
Karl's neighbors seemed to be in accordance with his fruitful yard plan. One of them even allowed Tricamo to plant tomatoes in her garden as a "show of solidarity."
Perhaps more neighbors felt compelled to lend support after the board sent a letter to Tricamo and all nearby residents saying :
The owner of 309 Louisa wishes to utilize his property, currently zoned R-1D, for agricultural purposes by planting tall crops which will cover the entire front yard of the property. City Staff has determined that such use is not allowed within that zoning district under Chapter 49, the Zoning Ordinance for the City of Ferguson and, otherwise, constitutes a nuisance. The owner appeals that determination.City officials changed their citings a lot, and really never could give Tricamo an actual code that prohibited a garden, especially since the ordinances specifically allow for vegetation, with no height requirements. So they obnoxiously tried to paint his yard into a large-scale commercial farm saying he needs permission to engage in "agriculture!"
Adding to that absurdity, the enforcers cased his place week after week; they would drive by, or park out front and watch the yard.
Karl did not cave when he received nuisance warnings and commands to first lay down hay and plant grass, and later to rip up his vegetables. But, as he documents on his blog , the constant harassment and drive-bys for months were not easy on him and his family.
Tricamo and his landlord, Jesse Brandt, were represented by Libertarian attorney Dave Roland of Freedom Center of Missouri who argued with the board on the basis of constitutional rights with supporting evidence that there were no code violations. Neighbors and family pitched in their support at the board meeting.
With all the help, Brandt and Tricamo's citations and fines were struck down in a Board of Adjustment decision by a 4-1 vote!
"We felt vindicated," Karl said. "I had taken steps from day one that everything would be within ordinance. They just tried to throw everything at us and hoped something would stick."
The one opposing vote came from an upset Joe Schroeder :
The board felt that, technically, he had the law in his favor - But I think that all of us on the board agreed that the garden is an eyesore. It goes against common sense, really, to put a garden in the front yard instead of the back.So the law should be based on someone else's "common sense"? Or what is aesthetically pleasing to a board member?
Karl addressed the all-too typical response from people who'd rather go along to get along - the ones who say, "Why don't you just grow in the back yard?" Or, "Why not just flowers and grass?" The point is, that to him, he is within community ordinances and not trying to appease or placate others' demands. He wishes others would appreciate the diversity of plant life he diligently cultivated. If this weren't such an ordeal, and if bureaucrats weren't over his shoulder, he would prefer to let what we call "weeds" survive as they do in nature; as they do serve a purpose and are not aesthetically displeasing to everyone.
Freedom lover Roland is proud of people who face intimidation by taking on city hall. He said of the victory:
I’m proud of Mr. Tricamo and Mr. Brandt, because in standing up for their own constitutional rights, they have given hope to everyone else who might face a similar situation.