By Rita Robinson | LB Indy
The 11,000-square-foot lot in South Laguna, home to 53 raised garden boxes, twice as many urban gardeners and an array of vegetables, fruit and flowers for the past four years, recently sold for $1.2 million.
The deal sinks the hopes of garden supporters who tried to raise money, obtain city money as well as grants over the last year to buy the land themselves.
Paul Tran purchased the property at 31610 South Coast Highway at the corner of Eagle Rock and Virginia Way for $1.2 million in 2006. “I lost money,” said Tran, who figured he paid $84,000 in property taxes over the years and recently spent more than $60,000 in realtor commission fees.
As absentee owner living in Baton Rouge, La., Tran let the South Laguna Civic Association build the city’s only community garden there without charge. Tran owns a Baton Rouge service station he said he is now selling due to the pervasive polluting effects of the BP oil spill of 2010. He hopes to return to California.
The South Laguna Civic Assn. cultivated the tiered lots on two levels for a burgeoning all-organic community garden, where some gardeners shared their raised beds and children sowed seeds in their own plot. Earlier this year, Tran offered to sell the property to the association for $1 million so the garden could continue but, despite fundraising efforts, the association was unable to hit the mark. “I never make money on that piece of land,” Tran commented. “I wish I could hang onto it and help the Laguna community garden out.”
Tran said he understands that the buyer, Ahmed Al Tuwaijri, is a medical doctor who plans to build a clinic on the property, if possible. The sale was finalized late last month. Garden organizers said they plan to contact the new owner and hope to keep the community garden open until building begins, garden spokeswoman Ann Christoph said in a statement.
Garden representatives requested that the city purchase the property as its first official community garden but were repeatedly denied due to the cost. Gardeners paid a $50 annual fee for their plots, required to help pay for water. At one time, there was a waiting list for plot openings.
During the past four years, the garden opened its gates to community events such as Christmas sing-alongs and harvest celebrations as well as cooking and gardening workshops. Until further notice, the garden will continue that tradition with a holiday potluck and sing-along set for 3 to 5 p.m. on Saturday, Dec. 14.
The once rocky and unsightly corner lots were originally dug up and cultivated by Ali Taghavi, who sold its bounty at a corner stand. Taghavi left the garden in 2004 and the lots were left fallow until 2009 when the South Laguna Community Garden raised garden boxes there.