EUSD looks to help community garden take root


The Encinitas Union School District wants to help a local community garden — in the works for five years now — clear a permitting hurdle.

Recently, the nonprofit Encinitas Community Garden signed a lease to set up planter boxes on one acre of EUSD’s 10-acre property at 441 Quail Gardens Drive. To do so, city staff told garden organizers they would need a coastal development permit and a grading permit, a process that can take around eight months.

However, rather than the nonprofit having to start and complete those permits, EUSD stated last week it intends to amend existing permit applications for the property to include the garden, according to city officials. If such a move is approved by the city, this would lessen the nonprofit’s workload and move up the groundbreaking.

“We’re definitely very grateful to the district,” said Elizabeth Taylor, legal counsel for the Encinitas Community Garden. Taylor also said she doesn’t think the city should have required the permits in the first place, but added this is the best the garden can hope for at this point.

EUSD had considered amending the permits for months, but wanted to make sure plans for the entire 10-acre site were in their final stages before going that route, Taylor said.

City Planning Director Jeff Murphy said the city is “supportive of the approach to amend the applications.” He said that garden organizers and city staff will meet in early December to talk more about the process.

Should the city ultimately approve the permit amendments, Taylor said she’s optimistic that the garden would be cleared to open to the public early next year, despite repeated delays.

“I’ve been hopeful a lot of times through this process,” she said.

In January 2009, the Encinitas City Council signaled its support for a community garden and tasked organizers with finding a site. In the intervening years, garden organizers formed the nonprofit, settled on the Quail Gardens site after reviewing properties throughout the city, waited for the district to finalize site plans, and drew up architectural documents.

Sensing the garden was soon to break ground, the nonprofit purchased wood last spring for the planter boxes. But the city advised organizers that several permits were still necessary, so the garden was put on hold.

In hopes of propelling the project forward, the Encinitas City Council last summer recommended ways to ease the permit requirements. This led the Planning Commission to rule that the community garden is allowed by right in the Encinitas Ranch Specific Plan, waiving a $1,600 minor-use permit.

Nonetheless, the coastal development and grading permits remain. It would cost $1,600 to amend the coastal development permit; the fee for changing the grading permit hasn’t been tallied. And it has yet to be determined how these amendments will be funded.

Taylor said because the garden has been slow going, she’s in favor of reforms to city rules so that future community gardens and agriculture projects don’t need as many permits. A council subcommittee is drafting potential reforms to relax regulations for backyard farms and community farms.

Plans for the rest of the Quail Gardens site, called EUSD Farm Lab, would include crops, portable classrooms and educational features revolving around agriculture.

The district held a soft opening in October for EUSD Farm Lab by enriching the soil and inviting artists to paint murals. EUSD is set to outline more plans for the farm in January.

“We feel there is significant benefit to our school families and the local community with the proximity to our campus,” EUSD Superintendent Tim Baird said in an email. “We are working through the process with the city and the community garden to do what we can to help make this a reality.”