Michigan Woman Charged Criminally For Growing Vegetable Garden In Her Own Front Yard

Julie Bass is facing a misdemeanor charge in Oak Park, Michigan. Her crime? Planting vegetables in her own front yard. It is the latest example of the criminalization of American society.

If you look at the photograph in the article below, Bass has arranged her garden in a neat grouping vegetable patches.

However, the city code limits a homeowner to “grass ground cover, shrubbery, or other suitable live plant material” in any unpaved portion of their yard. So, she could solve the problem by paving over her entire front yard? If she paves it over, can she put plants on the asphalt rather than a car?

City Planner Kevin Rulkowski insisted that “If you look at the definition of what suitable is in Webster’s dictionary, it will say common. So, if you look around and you look in any other community, what’s common to a front yard is a nice, grass yard with beautiful trees and bushes and flowers.”

Here is the actual Webster definition of suitable:
“a : adapted to a use or purpose
b : satisfying propriety : proper
c : able, qualified <a suitable candidate for the job"

The dictionary lists as "obsolete" the meaning ": similar, matching."

Rulkowski's defense of the use of the criminal code to enforce his vision of "nice, grass yard[s] with beautiful trees and bushes and flowers" would not meet the definition of what is suitable for most citizens. Yet, it is part of a disturbing trend of criminalization in our society.

Bass now appears to need a “shrubber”:

Source: MLive as first seen on ABA Journal

50 thoughts on “Michigan Woman Charged Criminally For Growing Vegetable Garden In Her Own Front Yard

  1. What’s all the rhubarb about here? Lettuce understand she has nonion in her corner to defend her radish judgment in growing without a license. She needs to fork over some cabbage to her mouthpiece and make a beeline to the core-house and pea her case to the po-ten-tatoe on the garden bench. She’ll find a sympathetic caulifower ear, and her case will be summarily dispatched with a cel-utary effect for all.

  2. Mespo-

    Ordinarily, I wouldn’t carrot all about this case, but I object to their casting asparagus on her choice of shrubbery. I’ll bet they pack the jury with vegetable-hating 3 year-olds just to get an easy conviction.

  3. I hope some reader of this post will contact Julie Bass with the following suggestion. I looked at the photo of her place posted at MLive. Those raised beds of hers are pretty ugly. There’s a better way to do it. These books (listed at Amazon) could help:

    http://www.amazon.com/s/ref=nb_sb_ss_i_0_80?url=search-alias%3Dstripbooks&field-keywords=edible+front+yard+the+mow-less.+grow-more+plan+for+a+beautiful.+bountiful+garden&sprefix=edible+front+yard+the+mow-less.+grow-more+plan+for+a+beautiful.+bountiful+garden

    A beautiful veggie garden would help her case two ways: first, if the neighbors aren’t ticked off, the town’s less likely to bother her. Second, it bolsters her contention that her plantings are “suitable” within the meaning of the ordinance. Make it pretty, Julie, and the trouble goes away.

  4. I lived in Steamboat Springs Colorado. There was a lot of snow there and so the city owned strips averaging 18 feet wide between the pavement and the property lines. There were no sidewalks, no curbs, and the city did not mow these areas. If you didn’t mow them they would usually send you a letter and charge you to mow them. So the practice was for adjoining property owners to take care of the vegetation and many people installed sprinkler systems. The only request the city made was to keep landscaping rocks at least 6 feet from the pavement so they wouldn’t get sucked into the City’s snow blowers. The grass would not stay green without constant sprinkling so xeriscaping was recommended — ground covers and flowers

    I lived across the street from a convicted drug dealer who was the president of the city council. He didn’t have a workable driveway so he used to instruct his many visitors to park on the grass in front of my home and to use our driveway to turn around in.

    I planted a lot of daffodils and flowers in these areas. Then I got a letter from the assistant city attorney saying I had to have a gardening permit. No one else had to have a gardening permit, only me. There was no gardening permit form. The city attorney said I had to describe the flowers that I wanted to plant. I wrote to the city manager about my tulips and daffodils. He wrote back that I could plant them except on the last 50 feet of my property, where my neighbor was encroaching. I had a drive there. My landscaping guy trimmed a 50 year old willow tree that was hitting the top of my car. The same week my neighbor trimmed the same tree, plus other trees in a row of similar trees on city land between the pavement and my land. He trimmed them because he had converted the end of the street to a private parking lot for himself and his guests, instead of paving a drive on his own land. These old willow trees were everywhere and would grow if you just planted a fallen limb in wet soil.

    I got a letter from the city attorney saying I was to be criminally charged in municipal court because my landscaper trimmed the tree blocking the entrance to my land and because I didn’t have a trimming permit. No one else had a trimming permit, even professionals who were cutting down whole trees. The municipal court was allowed to generate jail time up to 18 months with a jury of 3; the judge reported to the city council and the city attorney. The city attorney didn’t have a contract with the city and had a private local real estate practice where developers could consult and pay in private.

    Attorneys working for the city said that I would be relieved of the criminal prosecution if and only if I came to an agreement with the city council president, Kevin Bennett. We had to sign an agreement to give up our rights to Princeton Ave and we had to sell him land for $1.

    My husband wrote to the police and complained that this was criminal extortion. They consulted with the D.A. and he said it was “a civil matter”.

  5. The Gardner’s definition of a “weed” is anything growing that you do not want to be there….A lot of citys etc…..have grass height growth requirement….

    This is the one I like out of this story…..

    “Michelle Obama plants vegetables on White House front lawn. I don’t think the jury is going to think that it’s suitable for the White House, but it’s not suitable for Oak Park,” said Bass’ attorney Solomon Radner.

    http://abcnews.go.com/US/vegetable-garden-brings-criminal-charges-oak-park-michigan/story?id=14047214

    Grow baby grow….I spent two years working in a commercial nursery…It was 75 Glass Houses….and I can grow most anything….

  6. I’m impressed with yet another example of people making up their own definitions to words. Nicely done, City Planner Kevin Rulkowski. Is this a disturbing yet growing trend in our society or is it just my imagination? Speaking of growing, best of luck to the Bass family.

  7. Actually most municipalities define terms. For instance, in Steamboat Springs CO the definition of a garage is a room used for the parking of automobiles. However they then tried to claim that a detached two story building over 2000 square feet with central heating, hot water and plumbing was a two story garage. Of course that building at 701 Princeton Ave belongs to Kevin Bennett, the convicted drug dealer, and he was getting special treatment because he was the city council president. Routt County lists the building as attached, but the photos, plans, and applications don’t show it as attached.

    It can actually be difficult to find city ordinances. Many cities don’t publish them on their extensive websites. Some third party websites have them.

    In Toronto Canada there is a neighborhood called “cabbage town” referring to the practice of growing cabbages in one’s front yard. When I was there in 2006, I didn’t see any vegetable gardens in the front yards; that was more of a depression era practice that is now coming back as more people seek to supplement their income with home grown vegetables. In fact, in some areas people are renting their yards to “urban farmers”. You can get a big yield from small vegetable patches and ones near homes have easy water access.

    In Verona Wi where I live now, I was ordered to move a 6 by 6 foot plastic greenhouse I had been using to grow tomatoes because it was in the side yard not the back yard. The problem with the back yard is that it was shady and root bound. The little plastic greenhouse was a frame covered by clear plastic. I guess it must have increased the temperature a few degrees. Actually the yield from the little greenhouse was amazing.

    In some areas they recommend “rain gardens”. These are supposed to be perennials that absorb the rain and reduce run off into the street, the gutters, and the lakes. They are supposed to be environmentally friendly. Personally I like to see the flowers close up to the street and the sidewalks. A lot of people put the flowers between the curb and the sidewalk. That helps also to keep people from loitering there, throwing trash, and using it as a doggy bathroom.

    In Steamboat Springs, I lived on a corner and with my 3/4 acre lot had over 5,000 square feet, probably over 8,000 square feet, of city owned land / snow storage that I was required to maintain at my expense but as dictated by the city manager. The city council president tried to claim that the purpose was to allow off street parking on grass that other people, not the parkers’, were required to maintain. I took photos of him parking his truck, all four wheels, on vegetation I was required to maintain. I tried to develop a model code for landscaping in those areas, but no one wanted to have a hearing about it. One problem I had there was that a neighbor would run his dog up and down it. It wasn’t just the poop problem. My dog would be inside my fenced back yard and when his dog starting running up and down the fence, my dog would go crazy.

    The whole Steamboat Springs homeowner experience was very expensive, very time consuming, and bad in every way except for the fact that my flowers were actually totally beautiful. But their beauty didn’t last for me, as I was forced by government harassment to leave.

  8. Actually this is an old trend dating from the suburban boom post WWII. I can remember a news story on CBS Nightly News when I was about ten. Some man in a Cleveland Subdivision had cemented his front yard and painted it green, because he didn’t want to take care of a lawn. He was harassed by the local authorities and the charge was “non-conformity.” The charges stuck and he was forced to remove the cement and plant a lawn. Some totalitarian minds need to ensure we all conform to their way of life.
    Sound familiar, look around.

  9. My Italian relatives have done this for over a century. No Italian would waste good arable land on grass-vegetables, fruit, and a couple of shrines to saints– a very homey feeling to the neighborhood. Mass emigration from America is starting to sound very enticing, but to where?

  10. @ Mike; actually the neighbors on the corner did convert their entire front yard to pavement and that was OK because they worked for the city council president.

    @ Gyges, actually I think the whole matter was about money and land from beginning to end. The city council president’s place was built before zoning and was close to the street, because of both the work of snow shoveling and the slope. The stable he converted to a guest cottage was only 5 feet from the front property line and was a nonconforming unregistered structure that was not supposed to be improved and was supposed to be phased out. When our house was built it had the standard 25 foot setback and a circular drive. So apparently the tenants there started turning around in the circular drive in our house. Reportedly, the old man who owned our house used to put boards with nails in them under their tires.

  11. The couple we bought from were the original owners and they were in their 70s. I think the Bennetts were just waiting for the place to change hands and as soon as it did they began their “taking in steps”. The first step was to put a fence up 60 feet from their property line. Then they bombarded our house with $10,000 of aerial fireworks. These were set off downhill from our property and only 75 feet from our property even though international safety requirements require a 150 foot unoccupied radius. The assistant fire chief said that the city council said they would cut their budget if they didn’t approve the fireworks permit and then the council all went to the big party. When we objected to the pieces of fireworks all over our land, they said we had a feud and that was why the city code inspector couldn’t inspect the extra buildings they built after they got possession of the land for $1, based on the pending criminal charge for unauthorized trimming of the tree hanging over the drive.

    The other question is whether there was drug dealing in the old stable. There was a lot of traffic to it, which I noticed because it was right across from my living room and because the traffic usually turned around in my drive, shining lights into our windows and waking up our dog. Various people told me he was a drug dealer but when I wrote to the police and told them that they didn’t acknowledge my letters.

    Real true misery in what was supposed to be a great family home in my husband’s home town. This place was not cheap either and is currently for sale for $1.4 Million.

  12. “You can’t make this stuff up,” Radner said. (Radner is the Bass’ attorney)

    I hope Oak Park’s Planning and Technology director Kevin Rulkowski plans to serve his entire career there ’cause nobody in their right mind is going to hire him to do to their town, publicity-wise, what he has done to Oak Park.

  13. Why are you all whining about this? When we are going to be forced to purchase health care from a single source.

    Worried about taking some one’s freedom to plant vegetables in their front yard but couldn’t give 2 cents for making someone buy something they don’t want.

  14. Here’s the house I lost to government corruption.

    http://www.trulia.com/property/photos/1071366633-824-Pahwintah-St-Steamboat-Springs-CO-80487#item-6

    I had an attached building lot with a fantastic view too.

    From: “Tom Ernst”
    To: “‘David Sieverding'”
    Subject: RE:
    Date: Tue, 16 Sep 2003 08:26:17 -0600
    X-Priority: 3 (Normal)
    Importance: Normal
    X-Loop-Detect: 1

    Not much in comparison.

    I was looking at a vacant lot next door to Bennett to purchase. When we
    were walking the property with our three kids, we noticed the property
    below us and thought it was a wonderful view. Just then Bennett came out
    of his house and met us. In short, he said if any of us attempted to
    step foot on the property he would shoot us. He also mentioned that if
    we built a home on the property he would put up a privacy fence so we
    couldn’t see the property that went down to the river.

    He scared the hell out of my wife and kids. Needless to say we never
    went back to the property and found something else.

    TE

    @Blouise

    I don’t think anyone cares about local government corruption except for the victims. The guy in Oak Park will probably get a promotion and at least job security for covering up corruption. In federal court, they just claim “immunity” for any and every crime they commit while in public office. Then you have to pay outrageous fees to their crooked lawyers and if you protest the USMS will lock you up without a criminal charge or an arraignment until you agree to do what they want. That’s probably one reason why property values are down; it is not worth being a home owner under those circumstances. And no one should ever trust the federal courts, at least based on my experience to date. It’s all a matter of who you know and who you pay.

  15. Clearly subversive activity… so, of course they had to charge her.

    Blouise, You said “nobody in their right mind is going to hire him.” Unfortunately, given the current climate… he’ll be wooed and courted. And I say, “Bring it on.” There’s nothing I welcome more than homogeneity…and perfection. Next stop… Stepford.

  16. Kay,

    I live in a small town that is considered a suburb of a larger city by outsiders … but not by the people whose great x5 ancestors came here in the late 1700’s to early 1800’s and established the community.

    We had a few public officials who embarrassed the town with stupid “official” stunts and none of them found it at all easy to gain employment in the public sector again. Stupid stunts by public officials embarrass small towns and hurt their property values which is how the next small town, where said official tries to go, sees it.

    Oak Park City Planner Kevin Rulkowski’s future is not all that rosy … unless he’s getting ready for retirement.

  17. Blouise:

    Your link links to a much larger vegetable garden a few blocks away, in the same government area, and brings up the subject of “selective prosecution”. That is the exact problem that I had. I was threatened with jail because a man I was paying trimmed a few small branches that were hanging low and hitting my car when I drove onto my property. I brought photos of the exact same tree showing where Kevin Bennett’s employees had cut branches as big or bigger (they would fall off in a minor storm), plus big cuts he did to other trees along the road in city easement the same week to the city council and asked why I was threatened with 18 months in jail and he was not but they refused to respond to me. I also had problems wanting to have a circular drive even though they were all over the city including on my own street. I found gardens planted by individuals and landscapers close to the street and none of them had gardening permits– I was the only homeowner required to have a gardening permit; they never issued one to anyone else and had no form. I was criminally charged for complaining about zoning violations; Rick Brown and his wife, (he was a police officer) got $10 K for complaining about their neighbors’ zoning violations. (The criminal charges had only the signature of the city council presidents’ wife, who was not a government employee, but was allowed to sign forms on the line for police officer). I was also accused of calling my neighbor an “__sshole”. I don’t think I did, I am not a big swearer and of the 7 people who were present, only one person claimed I did and she also impeached her testimony by claiming that I went on her property and scared all her workers. The workers under oath said that they never saw me on their land and weren’t afraid of me at all (I’m not very scary). In any case, President George Bush called a reporter an __sshole on national television and no one criminally prosecuted him.

    I made a sign “Same Laws for All”.

  18. The federal courts have different laws, unpublished procedures, and different punishments for different people too. If you don’t believe me, go look right now in the 10th Circuit 11-1227 and you will see them saying that Rule 11 judgments don’t require a Rule 11 (c)(6) order if they are issued against Kay Sieverding. This judgment caused me to lose my credit, my reputation, my business, and my home. It makes me extremely angry and extremely bitter.

  19. http://www.dailykos.com/story/2011/07/11/993474/-Special-Comment:-The-Nations-Purpose?via=siderec

    This is what I’m going to speak to in a Special Comment on tonight’s edition of Countdown. I hope to expand the view even a little more: that the only true mark any of us leaves on this earth is whether we improved or hurt the lives of the others around us. -Keith Olbermann

    Kay,

    It’s bad out there… I, too, know from personal experience. But in the end,
    as Keith Olbermann said, “…the only true mark any of us leaves on this earth is whether we improved or hurt the lives of the others around us.”

    So one keeps “fighting the good fight”… In the end, what more can one do. The corruption is deep and pervasive. America has its own Stasi-like force running games on the streets of America but, until it hits home, it’s hard to believe.

    Behind the scenes, there’s always been a lot of ugliness… But the last ten years have taken a mighty toll on this “republic” of ours…

  20. If she lived in Oak Park, Illinois instead of Oak Park, Michigan, she would have no problem. Just tell the Village Board that it’s a vegetable garden designed by Frank Lloyd Wright and they will put your house on the FLW Tour.

  21. Well I got a degree in city planning instead of law because I wanted to be positive not negative. What gets me is that my husband and I tried really hard to be a constructive part of the Steamboat Springs community. My husband was all sentimental about his childhood there. I got a kick out of a blog after Steamboat Springs had a big shortage of resort workers that was tied to inexpensive and unappealing housing. They said they went back to old public meetings and that Kay Sieverding was the ONLY person who spoke to the need to have short term single resort workers’ housing, more like college dorm housing than the condos they built for families with small children. My husband and I wrote many letters and spoke out at many meetings in Routt County / Steamboat Springs about how to broaden the employment base and have a diversified economy. It was like throwing pearls before swine. Some of this happened after 9/11 took the focus away from government corruption but a lot of it was before then. Maybe it was related to lack of church going, maybe to drugs, I don’t know, but we never expected it. When I studied city planning at MIT, the subject of discriminatory enforcement never ever came up.

    Now, I am trying to get warrants for arrests and detention I already suffered. They’re supposed to let you see the warrant before you are arrested. The US Attorney in Colorado, where I was a federal prisoner in 2005, 2006, and 2007, writes over and over again that they have never heard of me, have no records about me etc. All the feds seem to want to do is pretend that I wasn’t incarcerated without criminal procedure; they don’t seem at all interested in figuring out how to make their systems stronger. This makes me think that many more Americans will be incarcerated by the feds without criminal procedure and that the USMS is transforming itself into some sort of special unit police force where people with the right connections can arrange for U.S. citizens to be detained without a criminal charge. Maybe in a few years the USMS will actually be killing people.

    Did you know that DOJ has a Data Integrity Committee that is supposed to be responsible for implementing the Privacy Act but that the Committee never has meetings?

  22. Aesthetics mean everything. I do not think the woman should be charged with a crime for planting a vegetable garden in her front yard; however, as another reader pointed out, it looks sightly. She needs to work on beautifying it. I would be ticked if I had to look at that everyday. Just make it look nice.

  23. Some people choose to live in communities where exteriors are monitored. Such communities restrict the colors of dwellings, outlaw play ground equipment, outlaw garden sheds, prohibit overnight parking except in garages, and sometimes even prohibit UPS and FEDEX from delivering packages. Other communities don’t have those restrictions or have fewer restrictions. In Steamboat for instance you were allowed a detached garage and in that you could have up to 10% of the area of your primary dwelling as a workshop or artists’ studio, without plumbing. Other communities object to that. In some communities you can have two dogs of any size, in some communities you can have two dogs weighing less than 40 pounds, in some communities no dogs at all. In some communities children aren’t allowed. In some communities there is a lot of pot smoking allowed, others are very strict. In some communities you can drink in parks, in others it is not allowed.

    The real problems start when there are different rules for different people, unpublished procedures, and “selective prosecution”.

  24. Just tell the Village Board that it’s a vegetable garden designed by Frank Lloyd Wright and they will put your house on the FLW Tour. -HenMan
    :-) (…very close to the truth…)

  25. anon nurse,

    Smaller populations usually result in public servants being more immediately answerable to the constituents.

    Her neighbors may or may not be happy about the garden and concerned with how its placement might affect the resale value of their homes but the rest of the city now has to deal with the “national” attention that places their city in an unfavorable light causing potential home buyers to think twice before even looking at a home for sale in Oak Park. Many will blame the public servants for bringing such unwanted attention to their doorstep.

    Although Oak Park has a City Manager form of government, the mayor is running for reelection and this situation is already negatively impacting on his campaign.

  26. it is a victory garden for the War on Terror. what if the terrorists attack our food supply? is the city planners office anti-american? why doesn’t mr. rulkowski have an american flag pin on his lapel? does he expect ms. bass to cut and run? she is a mama grizzly. don’t retreat, reload.

    did i forget anything? i got most of that from the bumper stickers on one pick-up truck.

    srsly though, i expect no matter how she decorates the beds the city won’t be happy until all the worthwhile plants are gone. too bad she can’t grow some of these http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Carrion_flower

  27. pete,
    :-) …and may God bless the United States of America…, as well as the mighty Carrion flower.

    Blouise,

    Weary, weary, weary on this end. Good points, all, as usual.

  28. anon nurse,

    Your battle is a worthy one. I have a simply hilarious story about a bad-boy local politician that you will greatly enjoy.

    I’m too tired to get the links together tonight but I will do so tomorrow evening and email them to you.

  29. Long time gardener here. Sorry, but those are really beautiful raised beds. Neat mulching, nice spacing for tending. No. There is nothing wrong with those planting beds. They do get prettier later when the squash or potato vines drape over. Would you prefer she have some garden gnomes, a wishing well, some deer, a lawn jockey, a old tractor tire planter painted white?

  30. Pete-

    Don’t let the gov’t. get wind of your “victory garden for the War on Terror” idea. Next thing you know they’re rationing meat, sugar, rubber tires, gasoline, and beer. They already drafted my dimpled ass once, I don’t want them drafting my wrinkled ass now.

  31. In Steamboat Springs Colorado you can potentially get 18 months for any violation of municipal ordinance whether or not the ordinance makes sense or is published or consistently imposed. It is or at least when we lived there was against the Steamboat Springs ordinances to mow the grass. mulch, water, or “trim” between your property line and the pavement, but the City doesn’t mow, mulch, water, or “trim” there either even though the average distance is 18 feet. Steamboat is a home rule city and claims immunity in federal court. Steamboat Springs Colorado is just a really dangerous and unpleasant place to live where the local officials can basically do anything they want to benefit themselves and hurt anyone just because they are corrupt, sadistic and power hungry. The locals just turn a blind eye. Anyone can confirm that they are corrupt just by looking at the Routt County property tax rolls for Jane and Kevin Bennett, 701 Princeton Ave. and looking for the detached 2000 square foot two story building they built in 2000 and the stable, 5 feet from the front property line, that they expanded and converted to a guest cottage in 2000.

  32. A computer program (called computer program) – a system of symbols describing the calculations in accordance with constant rules, called a programming language [1]. The program is usually executed next to a computer (for example, displays the net page), sometimes undeviatingly – if it is expressed in a language understandable in behalf of the machinery or indirectly – if it is interpreted beside another program (the interpreter). The program can be a organization of instructions that specify the modifications of the contrivance but it can also chronicle the figure in another progress (eg, lambda calculus).
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