South Laguna residents asked the City Council Tuesday to seed fundraising for the purchase of the community garden parcel that is on the market.
The request for funding from the sale of a different parcel the city acquired by quitclaim from the county and agreed to sell for $251,251.87 was not on the agenda. The city attorney and city manager advised the council to discontinue public testimony on the proposal, despite some grousing, until the requested allocation was agendized.
"It will be on the Oct. 2 agenda," said City Manager John Pietig. "We will be meeting with garden representatives to discuss options and details such as zoning and ownership."
Children's Sharing Garden leader Carly Andrews spoke about the value of the garden to families.
"It is important to keep this garden alive," Andrews said.
Andrews also read into the public testimony what her daughter, Alani Sciacca, wrote about the garden, followed by Alecsander Niccum, who said the garden was his Eagle Scout project, and 8-year-old Odin Flores, who asked the council to put money in a fund and buy the garden for kids like him.
Former Mayor Ann Christoph and South Laguna resident John Keith presented a slideshow on the history of the park.
Sixteen people spoke in favor of the allocation, starting with South Laguna Civic Assn. President Bill Rihn, who reported that the owner of the 5,000-square-foot corner lot on Coast Highway on which the garden sits is asking about $1 million for the property.
"We are going to raise the money," Rihn said. "The first step would be to allocate $200,000 toward the purchase of the garden property.
"We want an agreement with the city for the South Laguna Civic Assn. to operate the garden.
Rihn said the acquisition would not come at the expense of taxpayers' money. However, Pietig said the proceeds from the sale of the property quitclaimed by the county would be public money.
The council stashed it in the Park-in-lieu Fund, which the garden supporters found more acceptable than the Open Space Fund.
"This is park land, not open space," Rihn said.
The parcel had been designated as parkland when it went to the county in 1927, but the steeply sloped 150-foot-long by 30-foot-wide lot was never used as a park. It has no beach access.
Pietig suggested the funds could also be parked in the General Fund or Capital Improvement Fund, which the city manager said was the proper place.
Laguna Beach Taxpayers Assn. President Martha Lydick said Wednesday that the city could better use the money to improve infrastructure.
No one from the public spoke at the meeting in opposition to the windfall being allocated to the garden acquisition. Some opposition might surface at the Oct. 2 meeting, opined Councilman Kelly Boyd.
"It don't think that all that money should go to a specific group to buy a parcel for 40 or 50 people to grow vegetables," said Boyd. "What about the people in North Laguna who might want a community garden? They are going to say, 'You gave it to them; now we want it.'"