City proposal upsets Grover gardeners

The existing community garden at 920 Brighton Ave. in Grover Beach.
The existing community garden at 920 Brighton Ave. in Grover Beach. dmiddlecamp@thetribunenews.com

Sandy Darling was busy tending her garden in Grover Beach early Friday afternoon. She planted carrots and then harvested some celery stalks and lettuce to give to a neighboring gardener to help feed the rabbits he rescues.

“It is the best therapy in the world,” Darling said. “Just hands in the dirt.”

Darling is one of more than a dozen people who lease space for $5 a month in a community garden at 920 Brighton Ave. The city has owned the property since 1978; it contains 18 spots, 17 of which are in use.

She’s also one of numerous residents who are upset about a plan to sell the 6,620-square-foot parcel for low-income housing.

The city proposes to sell the property to the Grover Beach Improvement Agency — a separate legal entity but composed of the same council members and city staff — for $235,000, paid with funds the agency is required under state law to set aside for low-income housing.

The money would be put into the city’s general fund and used to prevent the city from ending its current fiscal year with a deficit June 30, City Manager Bob Perrault said.

Perrault said the site is an excellent location for this type of housing because it is near a transit center at Ramona Garden Park and shopping in the city’s downtown.

No project is currently planned for the site, he said. A single-family home and a possible second unit would be permitted as compatible with the surrounding neighborhood.

Neighbors counter that the property isn’t designated for housing and are concerned about the loss of open space.

“Besides getting rid of open space, they’re just accommodating their general fund and abusing their housing fund,” said Darrell Voth, who lives next door to the garden.

A letter from Babak Naficy, an attorney for a neighborhood group opposing the plan, states that the site is identified in the city’s general plan for parks and recreation and zoned for public facility use. He also argues that the proposed purchase price is extremely high and unsupported.

The city has not completed an appraisal on the property and is not required to do so, Perrault wrote in an email Friday. Doing so would cost $2,000 to $3,000, he wrote.

The city set the sale price after reviewing the listing price of seven comparable properties in Grover Beach.

If the parcel is sold, it could take a year before a low-income housing project could be started, and the gardens could stay until that time, Perrault said.

He said staff is reviewing other areas for community gardens, including land the city owns at 603 Longbranch Ave. that is too small for park development. The gardeners could also move to a community garden opening at the Central Coast Exploration Station at North Eighth Street and Ramona Avenue.

But Darling isn’t thrilled with the latter proposal. She’s worried that the Exploration Station garden might not be around for many years.

On Friday, two large orange signs had been hung on the fence surrounding the Brighton Avenue garden. “Save the Community Garden,” one stated. The other said: “Don’t sell the garden. Tell GB City Council.”

Meeting tonight

The Grover Beach City Council will consider selling the property at 920 Brighton Ave. to the city’s Improvement Agency, a legally separate entity for which the council serves as its board.

Because the city has received protests to the proposed sale, the resolution authorizing the transaction must be adopted by at least a four-fifths vote.

The meeting starts at 6:30 p.m. at City Hall, 154. S. Eighth St.