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Village Matters: Nudging Toward a Miracle

By Ann Christoph.

Sometimes things are meant to be and they fall into place just right.  Sometimes they are meant to be and they need a serious nudging.  A lot of what we are involved in seems to be in the latter category, but after the nudging is over and everything falls into place it still seems like a miracle.

At the City Council this past Tuesday, garden lovers, including children, parents, gardeners and non-gardeners of all ages, made the case for a city contribution to acquiring the South Laguna Community Garden site.  Private fundraising is also underway.  It didn’t happen last night, but the council took the initial step by depositing $250,000 from the sale of unused park land into the park-in-lieu fund.  On Oct. 2 the council will decide on allocating the funds toward buying the garden land. Another nudge forward.

It reminds me of our efforts to create a children’s play park in South Laguna, now the South Laguna Village Green, just down the street from the garden. There it is now looking like it has always been there, but it’s only been 35 years.  Fred Lang and I were working on the South Laguna General Plan, starting in 1971.  This plan was begun to find a way to keep the hillsides in open space, but to make the plan complete we needed to show parks.

At that time South Laguna had no parks, but many thought we didn’t need any, “After all,” they said, “We have the beaches.”  But parents with young children saw the need for safer places to play. So I drove around looking for potential park sites and colored them green on the map.

One day I passed by the vacant lots at the corner of Catalina and Monterey streets, one of my mapped green spots, and house construction was underway.  “Fred,” I called, “They’re building a house in the park!”

The South Laguna Civic Association mobilized and a committee called “People for Parks” was organized.  We called the lot owner and builder of the house under construction, Dean Whitaker, and organized a meeting with him and the county parks department representative, Bob Yablonsky. (See I remember the names of heroes.)  We fervently talked about the need for a park and how the old trees and central location that made the property a perfect spot.  Whitaker agreed to stop construction for 30 days while Yablonsky looked into possible funding sources from the county.  Sounds miraculous, right?

It was not going to be so easy. We weren’t getting cooperation from county Supervisor Caspers’ office, and even worse, he sent around a survey to all property owners asking them to check a box indicating if they wanted their taxes raised to pay for a park. The 30 days expired and Whitaker resumed construction. But there were still three lots left.  So we mobilized a petition drive and submitted hundreds of signatures in favor.

Just then a terrible thing happened.  Supervisor Caspers was lost at sea.

Tom Riley was appointed supervisor, but Caspers aide, Scott Ferguson, helped guide the transition. Somehow our park purchase turned into a worthy acquisition, continuing Caspers’ legacy. Funds were found in a defunct fund for South Laguna Service Area #16 and the board was about to approve the purchase. Then representatives of South Laguna’s fire department objected saying that the money was needed to pay for a paramedic van instead.  e supported the van purchase and the park purchase and the county found the rest of the funds.  The $80,000 purchase for all three remaining lots was authorized.

“Way too much to pay for a park,” some people said, but now having that park is priceless.  Having the garden is already priceless, too, as we heard Tuesday night.

Steps forward, setbacks, that’s how the decision-making process works. A powerful idea prevails over the setbacks if we’re there to do the nudging.

 

Landscape architect Ann Christoph is one of the community garden’s founders.

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