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Council delays decision on community garden

Officials ask staff to dig into history of land parcel and have an appraisal done before it makes its decision about giving $250,000 toward the project.

October 18, 2012|By Barbara Diamond

City officials want some more information before they fork over a $250,000 windfall to help the South Laguna Civic Assn. buy its fruit and vegetable garden.

The City Council directed staff on Tuesday to dig into the history of the parcels to ascertain if they are free of contamination and hazardous materials left by the dry cleaners that once occupied the site on Coast Highway and don't require remediation. The council also said an appraisal must be completed by a qualified professional to determine the fair market value of the parcels before it decides whether or not to move forward with the financial assistance. The vote was 3-2.

"If the city is behind [the garden] it [it] will be easier to get other donations," said Morrie Granger, an association board member.

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The asking price is just under $1 million. The association has pledged to raise the rest of the money.

An alliance has been established with a nonprofit organization, which will conduct the fundraising effort, according to the report by Assistant City Manager Christa Johnson.

Association President Bill Rihn accepted the city's conditions — recommended by staff — which included getting a binding agreement from the property owner not to sell the two parcels for a year. At the end of that time, if sufficient money has not been raised, the city may pull out of the deal.

Among the other conditions: completion of a title search to confirm that the parcels have no unacceptable liens or other encumbrances; satisfaction of California Environmental Quality Act requirements and zoning review; property acquisition standards and consistency with the city's General Plan; as well as the clean bill of health for contaminants and the appraisal.

The association also would have to assume all responsibilities and operational and maintenance expenses for the garden, including insurance and indemnification of the city, under terms of a sublease from the city.

"Most cities don't get a turnkey garden," said South Laguna resident and businesswoman Ann Christoph. "It is a different kind of recreation, but just as valid as tennis courts or Little League fields."

El Morro Elementary School student Odin Flores said he learned to play soccer at Bluebird Park, practiced at Moulton Meadows, and played at Alta Laguna Park. He explored the tide pools at Treasure Island Park, went to a birthday party at Heisler Park and learned how to take care of plants at the garden.

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