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The San Diego City Council on Tuesday unanimously approved a three-year lease between the city and a local nonprofit that wants to plant a community garden on a piece of vacant city land in the city’s southeastern Mount Hope neighborhood.

The council also began to clear away a bureaucratic hurdle that still keeps the garden from being planted because city zoning laws prohibit community gardens on land zoned for commercial use.

Councilman Todd Gloria directed city staff to draft language that would allow community gardens on commercially zoned land, but only in the city’s redevelopment project areas — places the city considers blighted and in need of public money to spur development. There are 17 of them citywide, including Mount Hope, and Gloria’s proposal would allow community gardens “by right” on commercial land within them, meaning a garden’s proprietors would have to notify the city of their plans, but then would be free to plant.

Gloria’s move was a victory for garden advocates who want the council to do more to deregulate community gardens, but it fell short of advocates’ suggestion that gardens be allowed on any type of land citywide, regardless of its zoning.

Many major cities — New York, Chicago, Seattle, Los Angeles and others — are more permissive than San Diego.

During the meeting, the councilmembers expressed a hearty sense of frustration that something as simple as a community garden should come up against so much red tape.

Councilwoman Lorie Zapf was the most animated. “This is the kind of government I just want to shake — and change,” she said.

Brian Trotier, departing president of the Southeastern Economic Development Corp., which will lease the land to the nonprofit, said after the vote that he agreed with Zapf’s frustration.

“I’m from the Midwest,” he said, “and the idea of getting a permit and this much bureaucracy to plant a garden is unheard of.”

The city will now formally draft Gloria’s proposal, and City Council approval will still be needed. No deadline was set for bringing the issue back to the council.

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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