Oak Park Hates Veggies

Bass Family Garden
The Bass Family's Criminal Vegetables
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Oak Park, and City Planner Kevin Rulkowski say that this garden violates the city ordinance that says:

All unpaved portions of the site shall be planted with grass ground cover, shrubbery, or other suitable live plant material.

Rulkowski claims that the vegetables are not "suitable" because his definition of that word is "common". When I asked Rulkowski if he's ever used this ordinance to regulate a type of vegetation before, he refused to answer. That's because he normally uses other parts of the city code. Oak Park has no shortage of ordinances that control plants and vegetation so it's curious that the city planner decided to use this one.

Oak Park already defines what is suitable live plant material in a number of other ordinances that regulate weeds, noxious plants like poison ivy, and property maintenance. Those are the codes that Rulkowski and the Code Enforcement department of the city normally use when dealing with property owners. Now if Rulkowski's intention was following the law, rather than enforcing his view of conformity, that would be the end of it, but it wasn't. You see, all of the other ordinances in Oak Park that control vegetation and plants specifically allow vegetables and vegetable gardens.

For example, under Grass and Noxious Weeds:

Exempted from the provisions of this article, inclusive, are flower gardens, plots of shrubbery, vegetable gardens and small grain plots. An exemption under the terms of this section cannot be claimed unless the land has been cultivated and cared for in a manner appropriate to such exempt categories.

And under amendments to the property maintenance code:

Section 302.4 Weeds: All premises and exterior property shall be maintained free from weeds or plant growth in excess of eight inches (254mm). All noxious weeds shall be prohibited. Weeds shall be defined as all grasses, annual plants and vegetation, other than trees or shrubs; provided, however, this term shall not include cultivated flowers and gardens.

But Rulkowski doesn't think that vegetable gardens in front yards are conforming enough to his vision of an Oak Park filled with boring grass lawns decorated with the odd shrub or two. Faced with the law that permits, or perhaps even encourages, vegetable gardens, Rulkowski made something up. He grabbed that other ordinance, the one he's never used before to control any kind of plant, and he now says vegetables are not suitable in a front yard. A quick walk around the neighborhood, though, shows that many families have tomatoes, squashes and grapes growing in their front yards. More to the point, Rulkowski has ignored a huge, 40' X 70' vegetable garden, with raised beds in wooden boxes, that has been cultivated for over a decade.

To show that Rulkowski is just making it up as he's going along, I pointed out to him that the Basses' garden is compliant with the very ordinance he's citing because there is, in fact, seeded grass, wood chips and mulch covering all the unpaved areas. He replied by saying that "ground cover" means planted material, not wood chips and mulch. If that's the case, every home and property owner in Oak Park that uses wood chips or mulch in their property's landscaping is violating that ordinance.

Just as Mr. Rulkowski is not prosecuting that huge vegetable garden, he's not taking action all of those homeowners whose front yards are now seemingly not compliant with his reading of the law because of their chips and mulch. Obviously, he's just making stuff up to suit his purposes.

Update: New Video of The Bass Family's Garden

family's right to grow their own food on
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garden rules. There is a much larger front yard garden,
unmolested by the city, only three blocks away from the
Bass home.
Temple Emanuel GardenBass Family Garden
      This is apparently legal in Oak Park.                    This will get you 93 days in jail.   
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Note: This site is not affiliated with the Bass family. In my own experience Oak Park public officials and employees are routinely ignorant of the law, twist it to suit their purposes, and can be exceptionally rude to city residents. Rulkowski and his employees will try to stop anything they disapprove of, just to exercise authority, even though the law says otherwise. They either don't know what the law is, or they don't care. Most likely a little of both.