Fifty-two new garden plots will soon come to Euclid Park and Park Drive in Santa Monica, as part of an expansion of the city’s Community Gardens Program.

Currently, the city has 70 Community Garden plots on about a half-acre of land — 60 at 2200 Main St. and the other ten on Park Drive.

Eventually, ten plots are planned for Euclid Park and up to 42 additional plots are planned for Park Drive, said Kathy LePrevost, community programs manager for the City of Santa Monica.

This will increase community garden plots by 74 percent.

“Despite these projects, the demand for plots will still not be fully met, due to the high interest in gardening,” said LePrevost.

In January, new rules and regulations were adopted for the Community Garden Program, and Santa Monica City Council requested that city staff work with the Recreation and Parks Commission to identify opportunities for expanding the number of community garden sites in the city, said LePrevost.

The council also requested that staff provide information on the “turnover rate” of gardeners during the past year.

“During the past year, two gardeners have lost their plots due to implementation of the new rules and regulations,” said LePrevost.

The waiting list for a plot has also decreased from 113 to 80 households, with the estimated average wait time to receive a plot decreasing from between five and six years to four years, said LePrevost.

Plots are available on a first come, first served basis to residents. There is a limit of one plot per household, LePrevost said.

At the City Council meeting Tuesday, December 5th, the council was given a “status report” on the Community Gardens Program.

At the council’s request, possible approaches to new gardening opportunities were provided, including those that LePrevost mentioned at the meeting. The council was asked to review and comment on options listed in the staff report:

– expanding the opportunity at existing community garden sites by assessing each plot as it becomes vacant to determine whether or not it can be split into smaller plots;

-providing opportunities for those having difficulty maintaining large plots to voluntarily divide their plots into smaller plots;

– including community gardens in the development phase of any new city parks;

– including community gardens in the final plan for the Santa Monica Civic Center;

– exploring the opportunity to convert underutilized areas in community parks into gardening plots, such as is being done at Park Drive;

– identifying vacant lots and land for sale throughout the city and considering the economic feasibility of obtaining them; and

– exploring alternative gardening opportunities such as rooftop gardens, partnerships with schools, a front yard registry and partnerships with affordable-housing project developers.

Neil Carrey, a member of the city’s Recreation and Parks Commission, spoke at that meeting on behalf of the commission.

“I want to say that I was really impressed with the staff and the process,” Carrey said. “I’ve been really involved in the community, as most of you know, and have seen many things happen.”

Carrey said that seeing his commission, the city staff and gardeners all work together on the project “really shows that if people want to come together for a common good — to come out with something that’s positive — it really can happen.”

Susan McCorry, the chair of the Community Gardens Advisory Committee, also spoke at the meeting.

“We wanted to say ‘thank you very much’ for allowing us to have this opportunity to work together with the Parks and Recreation Commission Subcommittee and with city staff,” McCorry said. “Two years ago, we were really at each other’s throats. But this has been a wonderful year of working together.

“I think that staff and gardeners have come up with some really good ideas [to expand the number of gardening plots].”

Councilman Kevin McKeown said he was really appreciative of the work that staff had done to create more plots.

“This is an example of how stuff ought to work in Santa Monica,” McKeown said. “I think our community gardens are a wonderful metaphor for one of the things that is best about Santa Monica, and that’s the feeling of rootedness that we have in our community and how we work together.”

BAN ON GENETICALLY ENGINEERED PLANTS — At the same meeting, the Santa Monica City Council voted unanimously to ban the use of genetically engineered plants in the city’s Community Garden Program.

In January, the council asked city staff for a recommendation regarding banning the use of genetically engineered plants in the city’s gardens and city staff recommended banning the plants, LePrevost said.

Genetically engineered plants are created by “artificially cutting and splicing genes of different unrelated plants to create a whole new plant species with different qualities from the original plant,” a city staff report says. It is not a natural reproductive method.

While the effects of these plants are still unknown, there are many concerns regarding their long-term effects, LePrevost said.

City staff is concerned that genetically engineered plants “might create soil toxicity and sterilization, could strip the nitrogen from the soil and upset the natural biological order by promoting the development of ‘super pests’ that would be resistant to existing environmentally safe pest deterrents.”

The plants might also alter soil structure, resulting in new “super weeds” that could spread to other plots, as well as “undetected toxins that increase the chances of allergic reaction to those who consume these plants.”

As a result of the ban on genetically engineered plants, the plants in the Community Garden Program will all be organic.

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