CITY LANDSCRAPING When in doubt, mow it down. Stephen Voss
Until last week, the small sliver of ground wedged between SW 13th Avenue and the I-405 overpass had been a bustling and colorful garden. It was transformed nearly a decade ago by a group of children from the church across the street on a then-vacant plot of city property. In springtime, marigolds and asters bloomed in the middle of drab overpasses and concrete. But all that remains now is a muddy field and soggy mounds of bark mulch.

Last week, a crew from the Oregon Department of Transportation uprooted the garden. Using industrial weed whackers, the workers slashed down the plants on Wednesday.

Although ODOT ultimately carried out the defoliation, the order to do so came from the police department. Spurred on by alleged concerns that the small park had become a hotbed of illicit behavior for the homeless, under the orders of Officer Jeff Meyers the garden was mowed down.

According to police spokespersons, mowing down the garden was a "pilot project." Within the next month, there are plans to sweep homeless men and women clean from ODOT land; a patchwork of city property that includes the area underneath the city's bridges.

Dr. Dudley Weaver, the pastor for First Presbyterian Church, which sits across the street from the once-garden, diplomatically says that upkeep for the small park had gotten away from them. Almost ten years ago, a group of children had tilled the ground and planted flowers. Under an agreement with the city, the church was responsible for the park. For the first several years, volunteers had trimmed the plants and maintained a tidy, almost Victorian garden. But more recently much of the volunteer effort had dramatically fallen off and the property became unruly. Weaver says that before the children could visit the space, adults from the church had to sweep the area for used condoms and hypodermic needles.

"I understand that the police are concerned about increased criminal activity around here," he said a few days after ODOT cleared the garden. A year ago, a man died from a drug overdose directly outside his office window. "Because the garden had grown so tall," he indicates, "it had become a 'safe haven' for that type of activity." Weaver admits he will miss the garden, which was visible from his office. "It was a bit of color in what is otherwise all concrete."

Weaver says he was informed by the police that if the church did not clean up the garden, the agreement giving the church stewardship would be yanked. He politely says the city was "patient" after the church missed a few deadlines to deal with the garden on their own.

Israel Bayer, Streetroots' director, is not so diplomatic. Responding to the police's allegations that the homeless had turned the garden into an outdoor toilet, he retorts, "There are no public bathrooms available." Bayer adds, "Whether there are bushes or no bushes, guys are going to take a whiz outside."

He also points his finger directly at Meyer, the police officer in charge of the garden-clearing project. "He's been chasing [homeless] guys for a while," he says. Bayer has heard about the plans by police to sweep all ODOT land clean of homeless men and women on November 1. Along with Crossroads, another organization that works with homeless, they are lobbying the city to be merciful.

To contact Officer Meyer, call the Central Precinct at 823-0097.