Volunteers of local meal aid organization Food Not Bombs (FNB) were greeted last Friday morning with a notice requiring them to vacate their current place of operations on the corner of Front and Laurel Street and move to a location on the other side of the road. 

Since April of this year, FNB has been serving meals to the city’s houseless out of city parking lot 27, which sits on the northeastern block of the Front-Laurel intersection. The new location suggested by the city, lot 23, sits adjacent to Calderon Tires and Mumbai Delights and is significantly smaller than the former. As of this Wednesday, FNB has not relocated to lot 23.

“The problem is we’ve already used that lot one other time,” FNB co-founder Keith McHenry said. “And you couldn’t get in and out of the parking lot, because there’s a lot of traffic making a right turn onto Laurel. […] You could not possibly be in that lot if you had to do Food Not Bombs.”

The notice, posted by the office of Santa Cruz City Manager Martín Bernal, comes in the midst of a city vegetation management project along the San Lorenzo River levee, a portion of which sits above lot 27. Dozens of tents line the levee, housing some 30 individuals according to McHenry — all of whom were also instructed to vacate the premises. 

Much of the language of the executive order declaring the vacancy notice focused on health concerns related to the FNB’s operations, contending that community members and city staff have “repeatedly observed consistent violations” of COVID-19 safety recommendations. The executive order also pointed to a build-up of trash around the lot and levee as a reason for the change.

Tents line the San Lorenzo River adjacent to city parking lot 27.

“We understand that [Food Not Bombs is] a provider of food and services to our unhoused and unsheltered folks,” said Elizabeth Smith, a spokesperson for the city manager. “And we think that’s a really good thing, until it starts to create nuisance.”