June 14, 2016
A new local controversy is brewing in South Florida surrounding yet another instance of local governments imposing fines on residents and persecuting them over maintaining gardens on their property.
After living in Miami Shores for 17 years, and growing vegetables in their front yard for the same amount of time, Tom Carroll and Hermine Ricketts were forced to dig up the garden in front of their home in 2014 when they were threatened by town officials with $50 a day fines if they did not. The threat of fines came only a few months after the Miami Shores Village Council passed a new zoning plan meaning that low-level bureaucrats wasted no time in fanning out amongst residential areas to uproot violators.
The couple is now suing on grounds that the ban on front yard gardens violates the Florida Constitution by imposing improper limits on private property rights as well as violating the equal protection clause. The couple is being represented by lawyers with Institute for Justice, a Libertarian non-profit organization that focuses on free speech and property rights among other issues.
Attorney Ari Bargil told circuit judge Monica Gordo, “were not saying you can do anything you want on your property, we are simply saying you can grow vegetables on your property and that is protected by the constitution.”
Bargil’s argument sounds perfectly reasonable, i.e. that the Constitution protects the right of an individual to grow gardens wherever they like on their property. But the politicians and bureaucrats in Miami Shores, however, are not exactly what one would consider reasonable. For instance, Richard Sarafan, argued that the new zoning rule was not irrational and that the couple’s yard should be covered with grass, sod or “living ground cover.” If they want a vegetable garden it should be in the back yard.
It’s not surprising that an attorney for Miami Shores wouldn’t find the zoning rule irrational. After all, he is making quite a bit of money from the argument. The fact that an attorney, politician, or bureaucrat would assume that they have the authority to tell a couple how and where they can have a garden on their own property is also not surprising. Neither is the fact that they would have the time or neurosis to do so.
What is surprising, however, is that Sarafan would argue that vegetable producing plants are not living ground cover. After all, he and his client were the ones that left “living ground cover” undefined.
Plants are living. They are on the ground. And they cover it.
Seems like Mr. Sarafan has caused himself to be in quite a pickle with his argument (we sincerely hope this pickle originated in the backyard, not the front). Thankfully, for Miami Shores, Sarafan’s detailed understanding of the Constitution is on their side.
“There certainly is not [a] fundamental right to grow vegetables in your front yard,” Sarafan said.
He actually said that.