Complaints sprout up over garden

The Huntington Beach Community Garden began as a way to bring people together for a common purpose: to grow their own organic fruits and vegetables.

But for some residents living nearby, the garden is a fruitless endeavor.

"It has become increasingly hostile," said Kathleen Saindon, whose bedroom window looks over the garden. "The business model for this garden did not include the community. It did not include us homeowners."

Saindon and others say their backyards are filled with strangers who garden early in the morning and at night when they are home resting. On the weekends, they say, people are there almost all day. Gophers have left the open land, which has been undergoing construction for the garden, and are digging into the residents' backyards.

"They are back there doing a hobby," resident Gary Tilbury said of the gardeners. "We live here."

Tilbury's wife, Lauren, said it has become difficult for her to open her kitchen window, cook breakfast on a weekend morning and enjoy her privacy.

Complaints have mounted so much that the city, which negotiated the land use with Southern California Edison on behalf of the nonprofit running the garden, is planning a meeting with the residents, said David Dominguez, facilities, development and concessions manager for the city.

The meeting is expected to take place in early June, he said.

"I sympathize, but it's private property," said Councilman Devin Dwyer, who worked with the community garden to bring it to life. "I'm sure they prefer that this is all just one happy community, but we're going to run into small problems. I don't think these are unsolvable."

Dwyer said perhaps the hours can be tailored to give the residents more privacy.

"I don't think they need sun up to sun down," he said. "I think we can tailor it, and that's where compromise will have to come into play."

Randy Bresee works early hours at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles and finds it difficult to go to sleep early because of gardeners who are talking and making noise.

"We have small backyards," Bresee said. "We have people right there at your kitchen at all times of the day. I work weird hours, and I'm in bed sometimes at 5 o'clock, and it's just an intrusion."

Margaret Abo, who runs her daycare business from home, said she had to put up a six-foot-high solid fence because she didn't feel comfortable exposing the kids to all the people coming and going.

"I don't know anything about the people back there, because we had no notices about who is doing this," she said. "It's not very nice. You live in a neighborhood for over 30 years, and all of the sudden, you have, like, 100 people in my backyard popping up any time of the day."

Annette Parsons, vice president of the nonprofit, said she and her colleagues want to be good neighbors to the residents and are working with them to find solutions.

"There's no community garden in Huntington Beach. This is the only one that we have," Parsons said. "And there's 112 families that now have an ability to create a vegetable garden, and the benefits of having an organic garden are numerous."

Parsons said aside from working with the residents to find solutions to their concerns, the nonprofit plans to team up with the local Boy Scouts to beautify it.

The nonprofit is prohibited from using machinery or heavy equipment per the agreement with Edison and has to remove growing weeds, which is something Edison did at least twice a year.

"That would've happened regardless of the community garden," Dwyer said.

There are several successful gardens throughout cities in Orange County, including Costa Mesa and Newport Beach. The Huntington Beach garden, which was modeled after others in Long Beach, is the first of more to come, Dwyer said.

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