Rising from what was once ashes and rubble, a community garden will sprout up in Signal Hill this year on an empty lot that became vacant after a house sustained severe fire damage.
Now covered in weeds, the empty space is wedged in between homes at 1917 E. 21st St., separated from Signal Hill Park by a brick wall. Remnants of the dwelling were demolished after the City acquired the property in late 2011.
Both nearby homeowners and city officials agreed that the best “interim use” for the space would be a community garden because of its close proximity to homes though the long-term goal for the area is to expand the park as part of the City’s Parks Master Plan.
The conceptual design of the garden has gone through a few changes after the Parks and Recreation Commission conducted a workshop with gardeners earlier this year and city staff reviewed community gardens in the local area.
Staff had first proposed adding a gathering space, a trellis, extra trees and landscaping for an additional $13,000, but that plan was nixed this month when the Signal Hill City Council voted unanimously at its Dec. 17 meeting to go with a “streamlined” version of the design. The Council authorized staff to start soliciting construction bids for the project that is now budgeted at $160,600.
The new design will enable green thumbs and beginning gardeners to grow plants, fruits and vegetables in the garden that will include a total of 26 plots, but city officials agreed that the “optional features,” such as the community gathering space, were unnecessary.
Steve Myrter, the City’s director of public works, told the Council that a community-gathering place would cost $10,000 alone and would encroach on a portion of the park, something that Signal Hill Mayor Michael Noll appeared to be strongly against.
“I have a problem when you’re encroaching on our park,” Noll said. “Like, 30 feet deep and 50 feet wide is a lot of park, especially during Concerts in the Park. There are several picnic tables around that area. If you think you need more, you can always put another picnic table around there so somebody can sit and talk and do whatever.”
The Council agreed, however, to make the entire garden Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA)-compliant, which will cost an additional $35,000. Two of the plots will have raised beds to provide access for disabled persons, and a handicapped parking space will be added adjacent to the curb on 21st Street. The Council is required to approve a budget adjustment for Fiscal Year 2013-14 to cover the project modifications, including a 10-percent contingency.
According to the city staff report, Pilar Alcivar-McCoy, the City’s director of community services, said making the garden ADA-compliant was recommended primarily because of the property’s down-sloping surface.
“This is a very sloped lot, so, in order to meet the grading requirements for someone with limited mobility, you’d have to really ramp it,” she said.
Alcivar-McCoy said the gardeners would be given parking passes to allow them to park on the street to haul heavy materials on specific days, of which nearby residents would be notified in advance. For the most part, however, gardeners would be parking in the parking lot near Spud Field, she said.
“The residents on 21st are very concerned about poor parking, and so we’re trying to minimize the amount of parking,” Alcivar-McCoy said. “But we’d have scheduled days where [residents] would know in advance and we would have a certain amount of time in the morning, let’s say Saturday, where gardeners can all bring their heavier materials and then come in through 21st Street for that time period.”Alcivar-McCoy also assured that there would be security gates with key codes on both sides of the garden that would only be accessible to staff and plot renters.
In addition, she said the City hopes to use the nearby Community Center and the park to organize gardening-themed workshops and educational programs. Alcivar-McCoy also noted that a portion of annual fees would go toward paying for a part-time staff person on site.
“We have a lot of options that we are aware of that we can talk about,” she said. “As it develops and as it goes along, we’ll find out more.”