Plan for Garden on School Land Wilts : Moorpark: Neighbors say the community project wouldn't blend with area. Insurance is also a concern. Backers look elsewhere.


Moorpark residents who had hoped to cultivate vegetables this summer in the city's first community garden have instead sown discontent among the homeowners near the site.

Organizers proposed the project to city and school officials in the spring as a way for families to save money by growing their own food.

The project would also nurture a sense of community spirit, organizer Robert Vickers said. "This would be a perfect way to get people together, to slow down the pace of life," he said.

Moorpark Unified School District officials gave the group tentative approval to use a vacant 2 1/2-acre, district-owned lot on Peach Hill Road.

But opposition from a nearby homeowners association and school district insurance requirements appear to have killed the hopes for a garden on the site, and organizers are looking elsewhere.

The homeowners association--representing the Design Additions subdivision adjacent to the site--said the garden and the chain-link fence that would surround it would not look right next to their planned community of cream-colored stucco homes and neatly tended lawns.

The lot at the corner of Peach Hill and Rolling Knoll roads "is the entrance way into part of our development," homeowner Elaine Cordeau said last week.

"We all would have to look at it," but only the gardeners would benefit from the project, she said.

Cordeau said she was also concerned that many people from outside the neighborhood would use the garden.

"Who are these people who are going to be coming into our neighborhood?" she asked. "Let them have a garden in their back yard. Why does it have to be in my back yard?"

Following the protests, school officials told garden organizers they had to answer the concerns. In addition, school officials said the gardeners would have to insure the district against up to $1 million of potential liability claims.

Such an insurance policy would probably cost $1,000 to $1,500 per year, said Paula Wilcox, a Ventura insurance broker who handles liability insurance for county school districts.

But Vickers and other proponents of the garden didn't check because they assumed such a policy would be too expensive and the school district really didn't want them anyway.

Tired of fighting, the garden proponents are now looking for another piece of land.

But school board member Pam Castro said she is enthusiastic about the original proposal, and board member Sam Nainoa said he would probably support it, too, if the group came up with insurance.

Nainoa said he was amused by the homeowners association's complaints. "You can't do anything in our community without it becoming a major issue," he said.

But Richard Brill, president of the homeowners association, defended its position. Design Additions homeowners have repeatedly asked school officials to develop a park or something else to improve the unsightly lot, Brill said.

Brill said he would support a community flower garden on the lot. "Then the rest of the community could also enjoy it," he said.

But one of the would-be gardeners said the whole point of the project was to grow food.

"Things are so tight" because of the recession, said Linda Selnick, who lives in the subdivision across Peach Hill Road from the proposed site. "If we could grow our own vegetables, it would help a lot."

She said the garden would be an improvement to the neighborhood. The weedy lot at Peach Hill "is so ugly now, you can't do anything to make it look worse."

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