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Two-and-a-half months after the City Council legalized community gardens on most vacant lots, at least two parcels are already being primed to nurture their first seeds.

Both gardens are being started by nonprofits that serve low-income or immigrant neighborhoods in Mount Hope and Linda Vista.

As it embraces and promotes urban agriculture, San Diego is working on several more law changes to give would-be urban farmers more options for producing and even selling their own food.

City planners are drafting changes to land use laws that would legalize backyard chickens, goats, and beekeeping. Another change would permit retail farms — a hybrid between a farm and grocery store where a business owner could set up a small-scale commercial growing operation and sell the products on site.

Planners expect to present City Council members with draft proposals by October, with the hope of bringing them to the council for a vote by the end of this year or early next year.

The changes have been pushed by a group of local food advocates that calls itself the 1 in 10 Coalition. It worked with the City Council to eliminate the restrictions on community gardens earlier this year.


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Council members said the community garden change was overdue and readily supported it. Following a recent presentation on the current proposal to further loosen agriculture rules, they said they were open to the idea but questioned whether allowing bees and goats could raise noise and safety concerns. Still, they told city staff to bring back a draft proposal by October.

“I think you’re on the right track. But given the sensitivity and even my own lack of information on bees, goats … I think you have to do a whole lot of vetting of this,” Councilman Todd Gloria, a member of the council’s Land Use and Housing Committee, told a city planner at a July 20 meeting.

The proposed law changes are still tentative and being developed by planners, but they include:

Backyard chickens: The law change would make it easier to keep backyard chickens in residential neighborhoods.

Up to 25 are currently allowed, but only if they’re kept in a pen at least 50 feet from the nearest home, including the owner’s. That has effectively banned chickens in many neighborhoods, where most yards aren’t large enough to satisfy that requirement.

Many residents already keep chickens illegally, mostly for their eggs, but as the number of backyard chickens grows, complaints by neighbors have forced some residents to get rid of them.

Goats: The proposed changes could legalize backyard goats, which are prohibited on all land except property zoned for agricultural use, or when the goats are being used for brush management.

Advocates want to allow goats for their milk, which can also be used to produce cheese. Planners are still exploring what regulations might accompany legalizing goats, including the minimum lot size and whether any variety of goats might be allowed, or just smaller ones, like miniature or pygmy goats.

Bees: City code does allow some beekeeping, but planners say the regulations, adopted in 1977, are outdated. A single beehive is allowed with a permit if it is at least 25 feet from the nearest property line or 100 feet away from the public right-of-way.

Advocates want to allow bees for their honey production and for their pollination abilities. Planners are exploring how to address public concerns about bee stings, whether there should be minimum lot sizes and maximum numbers of allowed beehives and whether hives should be allowed as part of a community garden.

Retail Farms: Zoning rules don’t allow agricultural production and sale on the same property. The proposed law change would allow owners to grow food on a parcel and sell it directly to the public. More urban farmers are using new growing techniques like aquaponics and raised beds that require less land than traditional agriculture, allowing them to set up commercial operations in urban centers.

Advocates believe this kind of business would promote the growth of local food economies and be better for the environment by eliminating the need to transport food to markets.

Adrian Florido is a reporter for voiceofsandiego.org. He covers San Diego’s neighborhoods. What should he write about next?

Contact him directly at adrian.florido@voiceofsandiego.org or at 619.325.0528.

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Adrian Florido

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

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