Last Thursday, the Advisory Board for the Santa Monica Community Gardens reviewed the changes in the garden rules that have been negotiated by the City and the gardeners.
The City currently operates 70 Community Garden plots on approximately five acres of land. 60 plots are located at 2200 Main Street and ten are on Park Place off Broadway. The City currently charges gardeners $60/year to defray City costs for the gardens.
Plots are available on a first-come-first served basis to Santa Monica residents. There are currently 112 people on the waiting lists for the plots. The average wait for a plot is five to seven years.
The City proposed changes in the rules and regulations to the gardeners and people on the waiting list in a survey in November, 2004, that ignited a long-running controversy.
Arguably, the most controversial proposal would set limits on gardeners’ leases. The City Attorney has recommended limits, according to the April 21 City staff report. “Because the current system allows private individuals to make exclusive use of City property for an unlimited period of time, the City Attorney has advised the current practice is problematic. Generally speaking, the law requires that public benefits and services be either equally available to all or be allocated on a fair and reasonable basis.”
The gardeners’ advisory board President, Susan McCorey explained Thursday that the City Attorney’s recommendation reflects her responsibility to “advise the City Council of any legal risks.” She also said, “No other city in the United States has community garden term limits,” adding that the advisory board hopes to convince the City’s Parks and Recreation Commission that “term limits are unnecessary.”
McCorey stressed that her Board agreed with all the negotiated rules except the term limits. Hugh Browning, a community gardener, echoed McCorey by noting that the City and gardeners have “negotiated a pretty good contract except for a few items.” He then pointed out that the Board “assumes it represents the gardeners.” He believes there “should be some type of ratification of the changes by all the gardeners, but that is difficult because so few of them come to the Board’s meetings.” The Board’s meetings are the only mechanism currently available for taking votes from the gardeners.
Other issues discussed last Thursday were “the need to identify more places for community gardens” and regulations that would terminate gardener leases for unkempt plots after inspection by City staff. In an e-mail to the Mirror on Monday, Community gardener Tom Harper said, “The City of Santa Monica has not made any progress since 1990 in opening new large areas to the Community Gardens Program.”
In addition, Harper said, “The City of Santa Monica employees charged with the responsibility for administering the Community Gardens program have failed to do so for at least the past 16 years by not, on a timely basis, re-assigning vacant/unused garden plots to those folks on the waiting list for a garden plot. These are exactly the reasons for there being an apparent wait list of 200. There also still continue to be vacant unassigned garden plots, some of which have vacant in excess of a year. The Santa Monica City Attorney, instead, has determined that the ultimate solution to resolving the presumed wait list of 200 is evicting all of the current gardeners via a lottery to see which gardeners will stay and which gardeners will be evicted.”
In an interview after the meeting, McCorry stressed, the Board has “made every effort to get the consensus from the gardeners” on the new rules and regulations.” She believes the new rules will increase the turnover in the gardens and will help “allow gardeners to work together on garden issues.” She also believes that the City is responding ” to the gardeners’ issues.” She concluded by stating, “In a year from now the gardens will be an even more beautiful place than they are now.”
The rules that will now be reviewed by the City’s Recreation and Parks Commission on September 15 include defining the role of the Advisory Board and the City, parameters for gardeners’ licenses as well as their responsibilities, the City’s responsibilities for maintenance of the gardens, garden fees and actions to be taken if rules are violated.The City Council will review and approve the revised rules and regulations after the Recreation and Parks Commission. The changes will take effect in January. McCorry said, “We’re asking everyone to make changes in what we’re doing in the gardens. In a year from now the gardens will be an even more beautiful place than they are now.”