National City is one step closer to legitimizing a community garden on city-owned land that has been managed by a community group without an agreement for almost a decade.
The City Council last week unanimously gave city staff its approval to continue to work on an agreement with Mundo Gardens for the operation of the garden, located on a quarter-acre plot on North Q Avenue.
Known as Joe’s Pocket Farm, the garden in 2009 grew out of community efforts to clean up the vacant lot, which had become a dumping ground.
In the past year, the lack of an agreement has led to concerns from city leaders and staff about liabilities that could arise at the site. At the direction of the City Council, city staff and Mundo Gardens worked on an agreement in recent months.
However, the agreement was never finalized because Mundo Garden’s fiscal sponsor, Yalla San Diego, dissolved as an organization.
Mundo Gardens, which is in the final stages of obtaining nonprofit status, has provided the city with a certificate of liability insurance to show the city it plans to comply with its insurance and indemnity requirements.
During a City Council meeting last week, more than a dozen community members voiced their support for Mundo Gardens and the work it has engaged in at Joe’s Pocket Farm for the past decade. The garden, they said, provides residents with access to healthy food options.
City staff, who returned to the council for direction because of the hiccups with the first agreement, recommended moving forward with Mundo Gardens to finalize an agreement for Joe’s Pocket Farm. The City Council voted 5-0 to give city staff the go-ahead.
As part of a second suggestion, staff recommended including in the agreement a non-exclusive provision to allow Mundo Gardens to manage a community garden at El Toyon Park, where in 2013 the city removed grass and fenced in an area for a garden as part of improvements made at the park.
The site, which was approved for agriculture, remains mostly unused. San Diego Community Garden Network had planned to operate a garden but it was not able to meet the requirements to enter into a contract with the city, according to a staff report.
The second recommendation by staff — to allow Mundo Gardens to operate a garden at the park — divided the City Council. Mayor Ron Morrison pushed for the city to issue a request for proposals and qualifications. In the end, the City Council voted 3-2 in favor of his motion, with Councilwomen Mona Rios and Alejandra Sotelo-Solis opposed.
“The last time we went for an RFQ, we delayed the process,” Sotelo-Solis said.
Rios said the city has engaged in outreach to find an organization to manage a garden in El Toyon Park and came up empty.
In light of the City Council vote, city staff plans to look into whether a solicitation process, which lasts about six months, is the best route.
“We need to determine whether that’s an effective approach,” Deputy City Manager Brad Raulston said in an interview, adding that city staff will consider whether there’s enough interest from potential operators.
“I think you really have to question whether issuing an RFP makes sense in terms of the interest level,” he said.
City staff plans to return with recommendations for the City Council in the fall.
Also in the months to come, the city plans to discuss the future operation of a garden that will be developed as part of the planned expansion of Paradise Creek Park.
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