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City Asked to Put Green in Garden

A merry contingent of South Laguna Community Garden members asked the City Council Tuesday to plant a windfall of greenbacks in a community garden.  They were told to can it.

The gardeners hoped to stake a claim for the $251,000 or more in proceeds the city expects from selling an abandoned 5,000-square-foot park parcel near Camel Point to an adjacent property owner, Todd Schiffman, at 31361 Coast Highway. Instead of parking the proceeds in the city’s open space account, the garden-makers asked the council to put it towards purchasing the garden lot, valued at $1-million.

But because allocating the money for any purpose was not part of the agenda item, discussing how the money would be spent was deemed inconsistent with the Brown Act rules that govern public notice of meetings.

“There’s nothing in here regarding having a garden or spending the money there,” council member Kelly Boyd pointed out.  “That would have to be another agenda item.  This group could come back at another time.  This type of decision will not be made here tonight and can’t be made here tonight.”

The council voted to place the money in the city’s park-in-lieu fund, where it will stay until the city decides how to use it.

Florida resident Paul Tran, who owns the property, allowed the community garden free-of-charge over the past three years. It now boasts 53 planter boxes and 140 gardeners, who have tended the undeveloped lot on Coast Highway at Eagle Rock and Virginia Ways until he decided to build there or sell it.  He placed it on the market for around $1 million.

Several garden enthusiasts squeaked under the wire and were able to comment before the gavel was dropped.  But all who wanted to speak were able to after the council took official action on the item and reopened public comments regarding any item not on the agenda.

Bill Rihn, president of the South Laguna Civic Assn. and a garden participant since it took off as a community project, said members will raise the remaining $700,000 to buy the property if the city will contribute the quarter of a million received from the abandoned park parcel sale.

“The city gains a million-dollar community garden without using one penny of taxpayers’ money,” said Rihn.  To audience applause, Rihn pointed out the deal he believes the city would get.  “Taxpayers didn’t pay for the park near Camel Point and we’re going to raise the other $700,000,” he said.

Myron Wacholder, a physician who’s lived in South Laguna and gardened at his home for 41 years, said growing your own food is the best way to improve personal health as well as the health of the country overall.  “As a physician, we’ve seen this epidemic of obesity, hypertension, diabetes, strokes and heart disease,” he said.  “This small effort that’s happening all over this country is an important first step that I think will make a huge difference.”

Wacholder recommended Michael Pollan’s book “Omnivore’s Dilemma,” which suggests what people can do themselves to get away from processed and fast food and improve personal health through eating fresh, homegrown fruits and vegetables.  “Diet is the most important thing.  This is the beginning,” he said.

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