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Publication Date: Friday, September 21, 2001

Environmentalists want city gardens Environmentalists want city gardens (September 21, 2001)

Residents use green thumb to push political buttons

by Bill D'Agostino

To assist cramped residents, one environmental group wants more spots for impermanent renters to be able to plant their own ephemeral gardens.

Sustainable Mountain View, a project of Palo Alto's environmental super-group Acterra, is attempting to stake its first claim in city policy by pushing for the development of more community gardens.

Leaders within the group say there is currently a three-year waiting list for the only community garden in the city that is open to all residents.

That garden, located in the Willowgate community on Andsbury Avenue, currently serves members on 84 plots, according to Erika Karagouni, the head of the Sustainable Mountain View Community Gardens Task Force.

Karagouni said there is a 3 year waiting list, made up of over 20 people, for entrance into the garden. The list is lengthy despite the fact that most city residents probably don't know the gardens exist. If the gardens were better advertised, Karagouni said, the waiting list would probably balloon even further.

There is also another garden in town (located in the senior center at Rengstorff Park) that is only for the local elderly.

In June, the city's Parks and Recreation Commission recommended that the city council authorize a study of what it would take to build more gardens in the city.

But the council's vote, which was scheduled for their Sept. 11 meeting, was delayed because of the attacks on New York and Washington, D.C.; the council will likely take up the matter at its next meeting on Tuesday, Sept. 25.

Karagouni hopes the council will approve the item and eventually add gardens at a suitable location. A possible site, she said, is at the Hetch Hetchy right-of-way that is currently being considered for a bicycle trail.

Despite being an avid vegetable gardener, Council member Rosemary Stasek said she will have to think hard about committing staff time at a point in the year when they are working to create both the open space plan and the housing element, two large and time-consuming documents.

"It always seems easy to say you will commit staff time to any project," Stasek said. "but I'm always really careful about what is the current workload of the specific staff who would need to do it."

With space being such a limited resource in Mountain View, Stasek also said that community gardens will have to compete with lots of other potential possibilities for any open space.

Ann Schneider, the chair of Sustainable Mountain View, said at meetings earlier in the year, group members chose the issue of community gardens to be the first issue they would sponsor.

Schneider, who has taught composting at community gardens in the area, said gardens are an ideal place to set up a demonstration garden to teach sustainable farming and planting practices. Since Mountain View is so heavily populated with renters who have little spare land, Schneider said having a public garden is essential for people in small urbanized homes to "find a place to breathe."

"The reality is we have a lot of low income people who live in places where they don't have a place to grow tomatoes," said Schneider." If your apartment doesn't have a porch, you can't even grow tomatoes."

Schneider said that the fight for community gardens has been a valuable experience for the group as they learn "how to introduce things to Mountain View and bring it through."

Schneider noted the group hopes to eventually bring two additional programs in front of the city council: a sustainability plan for the city as well as an energy conservation program. Those programs, Schneider said, are likely to be met with more resistance than the gardens.

"Community gardens," Schneider said, "is probably going to be the easy one."


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