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Garden to bloom again

More than 30 volunteers showed up Saturday to help turn a weedy vacant South Laguna plot of ground into to a community garden.

The Planning Commission approved at the Aug. 12 meeting the plan for the garden in the 31600 block of South Coast Highway, as requested by a group of community activists.

“We had a garden there four years ago and it was a boon to the community,” garden spokesman Morrie Granger said. “Then the lot was sold and we had to abandon it.

“It changed hands three or four times, but now the Baton Rouge owner has given us permission to use the parcel. The South Laguna Civic Assn. formed a sub-committee of Ann Christoph, Ruben Flores, Bill Rihn and little old me.”

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The first sub-committee meeting was Aug. 8.

“About 40 people came and they were all excited,” Granger said.

Barbara Gonzales, who is not a Laguna Beach resident, was one of two members of the public to speak to the Planning Commission on the project.

“I own property across the street and my tenants like the garden,” Gonzales said.

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Environmental activist Bill Roley also supported the garden, which he said could inspire similar community efforts in other parts of town.

“I was a founding member of the original garden,” Roley said. “This is a good idea — a pioneer situation, but other areas could be developed.”

Planning Commissioner Rob Zur Schmiede said the idea has more than local support.

“Community gardens are exploding across the country,” Zur Schmiede said. “I think it is a great thing.”

Civic Assn. President Rihn said the group knows of only two other community gardens in the county and they are both on city-owned land, overseen by city staff.

“We don’t have that,” Rihn said. “We are all volunteers.”

The Fire Department advised the committee to clear the weeds from the property and the first work session was scheduled for Aug. 14.

“We had enough people show up that it only took a couple of hours to weed and pick up trash,” Rihn said. “The property is 75 feet wide by 150 feet deep, but we will be using only about one-third of it, near the top along Virginia Way. It’s flat and the lot drops off toward South Coast Highway.”

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Rules and regulations were scheduled to be discussed Wednesday at a meeting Granger called.

Insurance has been procured.

“Next week we will order soil and the boxes,” Rihn said.

The bottomless “boxes” come in various sizes and are filled with dirt, creating individual plots that don’t require tilling the underlying ground.

“Raised beds allow quick growth,” said Flores, owner of Laguna Nursery.

Arrangements were made for the installation of a water meter, after which piping will be completed, Rihn said. The association is footing the water bill.

“We will stress water conservation,” Rihn told the commission. Flores said some native plants will be included to keep water use down.

Rules and regulations for participants are being discussed. One of the rules set by the commission was no sale of produce.

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Still needed: a building permit for fencing and a shed to be moved onto the property.

“A client is donating the shed,” said Christoph, a landscape architect, who prepared the site plan for the garden. “It will be a nice feature to anchor the garden. “The fence is very ‘village’ — like a traditional Mid-West garden fence that might take off in California.”

Rihn said the low fence was designed to keep children in, not out, and safe.

The group will be required to remove the shed when the temporary use permit expires. Development Director John Montgomery must also sign off on proposed gates.



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