South County People’s Kitchen is denied permit to operate at new location

kleslie@thetribunenews.comSeptember 11, 2013 

South County People's Kitchen serves meals to the homeless in a dirt parking lot on South 16th Street in Grover Beach.

KAYTLYN LESLIE — kleslie@thetribunenews.com

The South County People’s Kitchen — a volunteer food service that has provided a warm meal to those in need since 1992 — has been at its latest location in Grover Beach for little less than two months, but it already may have to find another home.

The kitchen moved to a dirt parking lot near 16th Street and Grand Avenue in July after its previous location at Shouts of Grace Church could no longer accommodate it.

To operate long-term on the county-owned land, though, the Grover Beach Planning Commission had to approve a conditional use permit.

The commission denied the request at its meeting Tuesday by a 2-2 vote.

That decision won’t stop the organization yet, said South County People’s Kitchen President Betsy Ehrler: An appeal is already in the process.

“I don’t consider (the decision) a denial,” she told The Tribune on Wednesday. “The city considers that a ‘no approval,’ but it wasn’t a 4-0 vote against. I’m actually thinking quite optimistically.”

Part of the concern is the kitchen’s location near a residential area. Some residents complained that the kitchen would bring increased instances of loitering, vandalism, theft and other crimes into the area, according to Planning Commission reports.

Ehrler has faced similar complaints at the kitchen’s previous locations, but said this latest spot was the only place available to them at this time.

“It’s not optimal, but it’s acceptable for now,” she said.

In spite of her optimism, Ehrler said if worst comes to worst, and the appeal is denied, she is out of options.

“It might have to close down,” she said. “It would break my heart; it would break so many people’s hearts.”

The kitchen’s volunteers say they will not allow that to happen.

“There’s always a way out,” volunteer Janice Zoradi said as she helped serve desserts to the 50 individuals who lined up for a meal Wednesday. “This has been in existence for 21 years. We feel that a door has always opened. … We trust something good will come.”

Abby Meyers, who has volunteered with the kitchen through four other moves, echoed Zoradi.

“If we need to serve sandwiches on the beach, we will serve sandwiches on the beach,” Meyers said. “We will somehow find a way to serve those in need, because they have become our family.”

The South County People’s Kitchen offers a free lunch from noon to 1 p.m., seven days a week, 365 days a year, at 286 S. 16th Street in Grover Beach.

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