This could be the end of the 30-year-old San Diego Community Garden
For nearly three decades, residents of Normal Heights and surrounding neighborhoods have planted and worked on once vacant land, turning it into a thriving community garden rich in fruits, flowers, vegetables, and community kinship.
It may all be over soon.
Earlier this month, gardeners at Vera House Community Garden were surprised to see a For Sale sign on the grounds. They had no idea the owner had planned to sell it, said Phyllis House-Cepeda, a longtime Normal Heights resident.
“We had no idea,” House-Cepeda said. “We didn’t know this was going to happen.”
Gardeners were formally informed of the sale by letter dated June 11, which states that those using the space have until July 10 to remove their property.
Residents and garden supporters spent weeks looking for ways to stop the sale or find someone to buy the property who would keep it as garden space.
They created an online petition on Change.org, which had more than 950 signatures on Friday, asking the City of San Diego to intervene in one way or another.
A handful of gardeners gathered on the grounds on Wednesday afternoon.
Normal Heights resident Forest Featherston and her 5-year-old daughter Amara picked apricots from a tree. Featherston, a single mother, volunteers to help maintain land owned by an 89-year-old resident.
She said volunteering in the garden helped her daughter learn new skills and interact with adults and other children in the neighborhood. Featherston said she wanted to cry at the thought of the garden being closed because her daughter will no longer have this community resource.
“The day we told her about the garden she got angry and wanted to take her piggy bank and bring all her money to save the garden,” Featherston said.
The Vera House Community Garden opened in 1992. There was a house on the property, but after it was demolished, the lot became a plague for the eyes in the neighborhood, until it was turned into a garden. courtesy of the then owner. , says House-Cepeda.
The approximately 2,400 square foot lot is located at the corner of North Mountain View Drive and 34th Street. Around 16 people are currently gardening its 12 plots.
The property went on the market on June 8 with an asking price of $ 399,000. According to an ad on the Redfin real estate brokerage website, “The seller has accepted an offer and this property is now on hold or under contract.”
The ad emphasizes the opportunity for a buyer to build a new home in the “Highly Desired Neighborhood in the Heart of San Diego”.
The property is owned by Angela Anfuso Deeney, according to San Diego County Property Records. Joanie Selby, a real estate agent with The Selby Team who represents the owner, said in an email Thursday that the seller was unwilling to comment on the plans for the lot.
“The seller won’t argue and also asked us as real estate agents not to do that too,” Selby said.
Featherston said she would feel better about the sale if it meant the land would be used to deal with the housing shortage in the city, but that land would likely only be used by one family.
Supporters of the garden tried to get help from elected officials, perhaps to buy the land.
“The District 3 team has been in contact with many residents of Normal Heights about the Vera House Community Garden,” Pro Tem Board Chairman Stephen Whitburn said in a statement Friday. “While we understand this is a private property sale transaction, we hope to explore options with those who are passionate about creating a community garden in Normal Heights as we assess the situation.”
The Normal Heights Community Development Corporation, a nonprofit that maintains the neighborhood community center and organizes events, has held the lease for the space since 1992. The company allows residents to use the space for an annual fee. of $ 50 per gardener, to help pay for water and other expenses, said Lois Miller, president of the company.
The lease between the Normal Heights CDC and the landlord has expired, Miller said, and although the landlord has allowed residents to use the space for years, they have the right to sell it.
“It’s sad, but… there’s nothing I can do about it,” Miller said. “With that kind of money, it’s not like the prize costs $ 20,000. Where am I going to get $ 400,000? ”
She said she understands people are upset, but the lot only offers space for 12 gardening plots, so it doesn’t make sense for the city to buy it for a small group.
This is not the first time that the community garden has been threatened with closure.
In 1993, the city of San Diego almost shut down the garden for good, claiming it violated zoning laws. Eventually, city officials allowed the garden to stay because it had the support of community members.
Residents now say they think the Normal Heights CDC could have done more to help them fight for the garden. They also said the organization should have informed gardeners earlier about the sale and when the rental agreement expires.
Miller said she learned of the sale on June 10. She said she had fought for the garden in the past, but there isn’t much to do now.
Residents said they are not giving up yet.
“Looks like no one is really trying to help us,” Danielle Nuzzo Meyers said Wednesday as she picked zucchini and peppers.
She said she plans to continue defending the garden and asking for help from elected officials.