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Grover Beach garden facing budget blight

jmellom@thetribunenews.com

Six months ago, Grover Beach City Council members voted down a proposal to plug a budget deficit by selling a piece of city-owned property that’s currently being used as a community garden.

But without additional revenue, the city will finish the fiscal year with a $250,000 shortfall, according to a staff report by City Manager Bob Perrault.

The city’s current budget includes cuts and uses reserve funds to fill an estimated $800,000 deficit, but it still relies on a property sale to avoid ending up in the red.

City staff has reviewed all of the properties that could potentially be sold — 37 parcels, according to the staff report — and concluded that the community garden site at 920 Brighton Ave. remains the best option.

The council was set to discuss the idea at its Nov. 21 meeting, but the debate was postponed to Dec. 5. When they do take it up, council members are likely to face opposition from local residents who live near the garden and those who lease plots for $60 a year.

City officials first proposed selling the 6,620-square-foot property in June for low-income housing.

The plan was to sell it 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 City Council voted 3-2 to sell it, but the proposal failed because the council needed a four-fifths vote for it to pass after some local residents lodged protests.

The city originally bought the parcel in 1978 with the idea of eventually purchasing two nearby properties and expanding the Ramona Garden Park — a plan the city can’t afford now.

The site is within walking distance to the park, a transit center and shopping downtown, making it an ideal location for residential use, Perrault wrote in his staff report to the council.

In June, residents and gardeners argued that the city’s proposed purchase price was too high and unsupported. Some also worried about the loss of open space.

The garden has 18 plots, which are rented to 10 people, six of whom live in Grover Beach. It also has a waiting list.

Rent from the plots can bring in $1,080 in revenue to Grover Beach, but last year the city spent $784 to provide water to the garden.

“The garden is a worthwhile amenity, but can be moved to other locations throughout the city,” Perrault wrote. Earlier this year, city staff reviewed other areas for community gardens, including land the city owns at 603 Longbranch Ave. that is too small for park development.

Reach Cynthia Lambert at 781-7929. Stay updated by following @SouthCountyBeat on Twitter.

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