Grover Beach community garden to keep growing after plan fails

A proposal by the city of Grover Beach to sell a piece of its property failed Monday, leaving a bunch of relieved community gardeners and a $120,000 deficit in the city’s budget.

The city had proposed to sell a property at 920 Brighton Ave., now used as a community garden, to its redevelopment agency for low-income housing.

The money from the sale would have been put into the general fund to prevent the city from finishing the current fiscal year, which ends June 30, in the red.

The City Council voted 3-2 to sell the 6,620-square-foot parcel, but the proposal failed because the council needed a four-fifths vote for it to pass after some local residents lodged protests to the proposal. Councilwomen Karen Bright and Phyllis Molnar dissented.

“If we continue to sell off our assets, we will have nothing left when we really need (them),” Molnar said.

The three council members in support — Mayor John Shoals, Councilman Bill Nicolls and Councilwoman Debbie Peterson — pointed out that the city has a commitment to work toward its low-income housing goals and has already cut staff salaries, imposed furloughs and made other budget cuts.

“When times are hard, the only way to survive is to make your money do double-duty,” Peterson said.

Opponents of selling the garden parcel started a website, created signs and even hired an attorney to counter the plan. There are 18 spots at the garden; of those, 10 people lease 17 spots for $5 a month.

They argued that the property isn’t designated for housing and the proposed purchase price was too high and unsupported. Some also worried about the loss of open space, not to mention the hours they’d put in pulling weeds, planting and nurturing the garden.

“It’s a very long process, and the garden is finally coming into its own,” Angela Henderson of Grover Beach said during the meeting. “It’s a beautiful thing, and we’re hoping you let us keep it.”

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

This is not the first time the council has sold city property to its redevelopment agency for low-income housing, with the money boosting the general fund.

Last June, facing a budget deficit, the council unanimously approved a sale of city-owned property at 1541 Hillcrest Drive to the Improvement Agency for $300,000. Even so, the city ended fiscal year 2009-10 about $125,000 in the red.

The city is working with a contractor on a five-unit project at a site at South 10th Street and Farroll Road, which is another property that was sold to the agency by the city, City Manager Bob Perrault said.