Election Section

Parents and Friends Decry Willard Garden Changes

Friday August 27, 2004


Editors, Daily Planet: 

The following is a letter sent to Superintendent Michelle Lawrence of the Berkeley Unified School District: 

For over a decade, the Willard Greening Project, led by Yolanda Huang, has involved the PTA, neighbors, local nurseries and most of all Willard Students in transforming the once-barren campus. Yolanda wrote the original grant that brought to the BUSD funds to develop Willard’s and several other district schools’ garden projects, where kids grow, prepare and eat fresh produce. 

And for years she and the PTA have labored virtually unfunded and with almost no BUSD help to beautify the front of the school. They’ve enriched and mulched the soil, installed drip irrigation, and dared to plant exuberant roses to soften the look and tie the school to the surrounding neighborhood. 

Sure, they needed help with weeds, and there were some design issues. So last February, when the district finally decided Willard needed sprucing up, PTA president Catherine Durand asked to be part of the Site Committee—which would sign off on the plans—but oddly, neither she nor Huang were included. 

Now, using disabled access as a rationale, but I think more likely in the pursuit of a commercial style, sanitized mow-and-blow look, hundreds of thousands have been spent in the tightest budget times in history. A full-size tractor has criss-crossed two thirds of the site, ripping out beautiful healthy plants and reversing years of hard-won soil building. 

Frankly, I doubt the district would dare to treat its other garden project stalwart, the well known Alice Waters, or her volunteers, this way. 

I gather that, now that most of the damage has been done, the tractor has stopped. This is a good start. I strongly urge the BUSD to contact Yolanda and the Greening Project, and involve them in deciding what comes next. 

Donna Mickleson 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

Mark Coplan’s Aug. 20 letter justifying the destruction of the Willard garden contains many inaccuracies. 

The issue of handicap access is a fabrication to justify the destruction of the Willard Garden. The actual architectural plans calls these “maintenance paths.” And these maintenance paths have always existed. There was no need to remove all plants. There is no legal requirement for handicap access through the front gardens.  

For BUSD to suddenly profess such ardent support of handicap rights is curious indeed. Certainly, BUSD didn’t drive a tractor through Alice Water’s garden last summer, during the King renovations.  

Nor was “handicap access” through the front garden ever mentioned until the public voiced its opposition to the destruction of the Willard garden. 

The destruction of the garden is wrong and BUSD needs to make amends. 

Yolanda Huang 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

When I walked by Willard Middle School, as I often do on my lunch hour from work, I was shocked to see the bulldozers and sickened to see my favorite field of dreams—tall and ethereal, where I could always see the kids at lunch, yet their privacy to play pirate games, tag, hide and seek or quiet time was not compromised—literally uprooted. 

What disturbs me mightily is the concept that amends can be made after destruction and that the evolutionary past (such as decade-plus natural soil enrichment by integrated pest management and natural mulching and composting) can be “restored” immediately—with $$$. 

Money doesn’t fix everything. As Shakespeare said in Macbeth: “What’s done cannot be undone.” 

The problem is a philosophical one from the world of physics: What does “the same” mean? 

Is it the same thing to put in a Little League field and lawn (calling it a green space) and uproot the 100-year-old continuously cultivated Gill Tract? Is it the same thing to put in a lawn at Willard where native grasses, plants and trees vied for space and made their own natural compromises and peace over time, creating truly organic beauty? 

What’s done cannot be undone, only “‘mitigated.” Try telling a kid you’ll “mitigate” the death of a beloved pet by buying another one. Is it “the same”? 

What we have here is colossal arrogance, colossal insensitivity, and, worst of all, a colossal failure of imagination. Why not ask Andronico’s if a few parking spaces can be rented and reserved for Willard parents at certain times of day? Why not look around the neighborhood and see if any other creative solutions are available? 

Imagine if the Willard Greening Project, with its saint-like Yolanda Huang (modern day St. Francis of Assisi at least) had been allowed to keep organically evolving with the blend of community control other school gardens (Albany Middle School, MLK Middle School) are allowed to have, and a different, nearby but offsite parking solution had been found. 

What about the disabled community of students, parents, teachers and administrators that attend or relate to Willard? What do they say? Are they feeling like PC scapegoats or do they truly want and need that access that is now the fall back position of justification used by the BUSD? Please speak up now as to how you want to see that space fit your needs. Gardens (and access to Willard) are for everyone because they excite all of the five senses we humans possess. 

The answers to the questions Why Why Why are not good enough. It is important to be able to admit a mistake has been made. Not Yolanda Huang’s understanding of why, but rather the act of non-organic destruction itself. 

An admission a mistake has been made by the BUSD, an agreement that Cinderella can go to the ball as well as her wealthy sister...now that is a mitigation that leaves hope for a return to the kind of organic process the Willard Greening Project has been greenlighted on all these years since its inception and loving care by all hands-on parties. 

Wendy Schlesinger, 

Chairman, Gardens on Wheels  


Co-founder, Ohlone Greenway,  

People’s Park 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

Berkeley Unified School District, instead of apologizing, has instead been defending its destruction of our beautiful Willard garden. The school district claims the destruction was approved by the Site Committee. In February the Willard PTA wrote a letter asking to be included, asked that the construction planning process allow for fuller and more thoughtful community input. BUSD did not respond to the letter. The PTA was ignored. 

The second justification for the destruction of the garden is handicap access. Why does there need to be another path, when there is a perfectly good sidewalk, and BUSD is widening the sidewalk to provide better access. It doesn’t make sense. 

I urge everyone to continue calling the school district until the school district agrees to work cooperatively with the Willard Greening Project to protect and fully restore our garden. 

Catherine Durand 

Past President, Willard PTA