Depsite frustration from a number of Seaview Ranch residents, community gardens may soon sprout like weeds around Watsonville.
The Watsonville City Council approved the Community Garden Program Guide at its meeting Tuesday night—which includes a long list of potential garden sites—and gave the go-ahead for green thumbs to break ground on a new community garden on Loma Vista.
The proposal was approved with a 4-2 vote; council members Nancy Bilicich and Emilio Martinez voted no.
It didn't come easy; the Loma Vista garden site has been a point of contention in the city and that was evident at the meeting. More than 15 people addressed the city council about both sides of the issue. Clapping, outcry and residents speaking out-of-turn punctuated the meeting.
"Excuse me, you can't keep commenting," Mayor Eduardo Montesino, who used to live in the neighborhood, scolded the crowd at one point. "... I'm going to have to clear the room if you can't stop the outbursts."
Residents who are short on land but big on home-grown veggies are supportive of the new garden, which will be built on land intended for a park. A total of 71 neighbors representing 65 homes would like the garden to be put in, according to a petition filed with the city, Bob Geyer of the city's Public Works Department said.
Sofia Vasquez Quintero, who lives on nearby La Jolla Street, said there are enough parks in the neighborhood and she supported the garden.
“I don’t know what your yards are, but my yard is small. Very small," she said. "...I would love to have a piece of this. I would love to be a part of this.”
Brandon Marquez of Watsonville told the council he learned how to garden as an elementary school and loved working in the sun with friends, growing food.
“Most importantly is a garden unites and builds up a stronger community, and a stronger Watsonville," Marquez said.
Still, most Seaview Ranch homeowners—including the Homeowners Association itself—came out in force against the garden project. Residents worry about traffic, trash, the safety of their children, the health of the wetlands and the loss of wild land.
"There's very very limited parking on that street, which we struggle with all the time," said Holly Heath, who's on the board of directors of the Seaview Ranch HOA.
Douglas Ow, an 18-year Watsonville resident, lives across the street from the garden. He proposed to his wife at the end of this open space, and hoped he would have a place to come back to and celebrate that moment.
“I think it will be a little different if I’m standing in that place amid tomatoes, cucumbers or watermelons," said Ow, who added he would likely move out of Watsonville because of the garden.
Under the plan, the garden will be organic (pesticides will be banned), Geyer said. It will include 25 plots overseen by a garden manager elected from those who are utilizing the land.
“The community gardens are self-managing, for the most part,” Geyer said.
The garden sits below “Tarplant Hill,” a protected site owned and managed by Watsonville Wetlands Watch, Geyer said. That organization, which aims to protect the Pajaro Valley slough system and educate the public about the unique ecosystem of the coastal marshes, has not taken a stance on the community garden.
“It’s sloping out to the slough … so erosion from the garden is going to end up in the slough just from rain. You’re not going to be able to prevent it," said Watsonville resident Darren Dylan. "This is not an appropriate site for a community garden.”
The proposed garden exceeds the city setback requirement from the wetlands, Geyer added.
Two Patch bloggers wrote about their opposition to the garden, "" and "," a contributor who does not represent the Watsonville Wetlands Watch official views.
Other publicly-owned locations identified as possible sites for community gardens include:
- an unused city parking lot at Main and Front streets;
- an alleyway that's been used as a garden in the past at California Street and Palm Avenue;
- the Davis Street community neighborhood services location;
- a vacant parcel across from Ramsay Park at Main and Longview streets;
- a large, vacant piece of property behind center field at Franich Park, 795 Vista Montana;
- Hazelwood Park, the large area below Rolling Hills Middle School, 297 Herman Ave.;
- a 2-acre parcel at 195 Airport Blvd, off Roache Road, that's an airport-owned clear zone;
- 52 Ninth St.
Two private parcels also have been listed as possible garden sites: behind the old courthouse on Freedom Boulevard where the FEMA trailers were set up after the 1989 Loma Prieta Earthquake and at the Pajaro Valley Health Trust off Neilson Road.