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The San Diego City Council will decide Tuesday whether to lease a piece of city land to a local nonprofit that wants to turn it into a community garden.

Local redevelopment officials don’t think they’ll be able to develop the empty land in Mount Hope for several years. In the meantime, they’d like the nonprofit, Project New Village, to start a garden where members of the low-income community can grow their own food.

But even if the City Council says yes Tuesday, the garden can’t yet be planted because city law still won’t allow it. The land is zoned only for commercial development like stores or restaurants, and there’s no exception for uses like community gardens on commercial land.

That’s one of the many hurdles facing community gardens in San Diego. Even though they’re allowed on residentially zoned land, the city requires a $5,000 permit that’s been a deterrent. With the Mount Hope garden in the spotlight, advocates are pushing for changes.

To allow the Mount Hope garden to be planted, the council will have to not only approve the lease Tuesday but also change the city’s land-use law to provide exceptions on land where gardens aren’t allowed.

Advocates want the City Council to change the law across the board, making community gardens acceptable on land citywide regardless of how it’s zoned.

Council President Tony Young’s chief policy advisor, Venus Molina, said an amendment only targeting redevelopment zones is more likely. That would make it easier to establish the gardens in areas of the city that have been declared blighted — like in Mount Hope — with the idea that community gardens are better than vacant lots.

“Everybody is in favor of making sure these gardens are around,” she said. “I’m not sure what the specifics will be at this point.”

At Tuesday’s meeting, advocates plan to ask the City Council to immediately schedule a vote to change laws prohibiting gardens on much of the city’s land. They’ve even drafted their own ordinance.

But no changes will come without the city first vetting any proposal and the council’s land use committee discussing the idea.

Councilwoman Sherri Lightner, who leads the committee, said facilitating community gardens is among her highest priorities as the committee’s new chairwoman. If the council approves the lease, Lightner said she hoped her committee would vote on further changes within two months and allow the garden to be planted this year.

Please contact Adrian Florido directly at adrian.florido@voiceofsandiego.org or at 619.325.0528 and follow him on Twitter: twitter.com/adrianflorido.

Adrian Florido

Adrian Florido is a former staff writer for Voice of San Diego.

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