The San Diego City Council has made it much easier to start community gardens — once banned or too expensive to permit — on most vacant land citywide.
The council voted unanimously Tuesday to support removing costly permitting requirements and zoning restrictions on gardens. Now, San Diegans will be allowed to start community gardens on any piece of vacant commercial or residential land citywide, with the exception of land in coastal communities where the the California Coastal Commission still has to approve the city’s new law.
Residents or nonprofits will not need a permit to start a community garden. They’ll only have to follow certain rules like including a sign with the garden’s name and its leader’s contact information and have areas for storing equipment and trash. Farmers will have to pay for their water use, but will be allowed to sell their produce on site.
For years, advocates have been pushing for the creation of community gardens to promote local food production and healthy eating in urban communities nationwide. But in San Diego, those efforts were largely hamstrung by restrictions that banned gardens on all land zoned for commercial use and required a $5,000 deposit and lengthy permitting process for those in residential neighborhoods.
The restrictions’ impacts were on full display late last year. In December, the City Council approved a lease that would have allowed a southeastern San Diego nonprofit to use a piece of city-owned land to start a community garden for residents of the surrounding neighborhood.
But the zoning restrictions did not allow it, so the land is still vacant.
In another part of southeastern San Diego, a group of Cambodian refugees farmed a piece of residential land for close to three decades before they were evicted last year for not having the legal right to be there. Re-establishing their farm has been difficult because of the zoning restrictions.
And in other neighborhoods like Hillcrest and North Park, advocates had gotten permission from private landowners to start community gardens, but the zoning restrictions prohibited them.
Two years ago, local food advocates started to lobby City Council members to change the rules, and with Tuesday’s law change, their gardens will be allowed to be planted within 30 days.