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City Parks Official Admits to Errors in Cost Report on Community Gardens

Decision on fee expected April 6.

An official of the city's Department of Recreation and Parks admitted to errors in a report on figuring the costs of community gardens during a meeting Wednesday at the Sepulveda Garden Center in Encino. More than 50 local green thumbs showed up for the meeting, conducted by the city to assess public concerns about a garden fee hike.

Last July, the Board of Recreation and Park Commissioners changed the parks department's schedule of rates and fees. In an effort to increase revenue, one of the many changes the board made was to increase the annual rental fee for a community garden plot from $25 to $120. Gardeners were upset because they were not consulted beforehand about a fee hike.

After protests from gardeners throughout Los Angeles, the fee was suspended until a more conclusive study on each of the city’s 14 public gardens could be made.

At Wednesday's meeting, Encino gardener Susan Heyer said that in a subsequent parks department report on garden costs, released Jan. 5, figures for the Sepulveda Garden Center were filled with errors. She addressed her comments to Abel Perez, the parks department's senior maintenance supervisor, who helped write the report.

Heyer said the report showed inflated costs of water and tools, and double taxation to gardeners.

"We found so much flawed information in that report, so many phony figures, so many bogus claims to expense that I hope and assume that has been tossed out and you are starting over," she said.

Perez admitted to errors in the report, attributing them to having been rushed, and said officials were working on correcting the report and finding ways to cut costs. 

Local gardener Susan Pingleton also spoke, pointing out that the city is missing several opportunities to save money, such as using xeriscaping techniques to conserve water. 

"If you're really looking to recoup [costs], don't do it on the backs of the gardeners," she said. "You have this beautiful facility. It's underutilized...We have a beautiful rose garden, a beautiful cactus garden; these places could be rented out to people [for events]."

But for most of the gardeners in the room, there was only one question on their minds: Are the rates going up?

That decision won’t be made without the approval of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. Sepulveda Garden Center is located on land owned by the corps and leased to the city. The corps has final jurisdiction over park lands and must approve all fee increases.

In an email to Encino Patch on Wednesday, the Army Corps of Engineers said, “To date, we have not received a request from the city regarding a plot fee increase.”

The city and the corps are expected to decide on a fee and announce it on April 6 at the Board of Recreation and Parks Commissioners meeting. But they are also discussing another controversial idea. 

"One of the things we're really looking to enshrine in this policy is having public open space be open," said the department's management analyst Darryl Ford, who along with Perez, City Planning Associate Melinda Gejer, and Principal Grounds Maintenance Supervisor Juan Benitez, ran the meeting.

During operating hours, the Sepulveda Garden Center is supervised by an employee of the Department of Recreation and Parks. For the safety of the gardeners, and to deter theft, there is a walk-in gate with a combination lock for after-hours use.

Several of the gardeners said that opening the Sepulveda Garden Center to the public would bring problems, including after-hours vandalism, theft of produce, increased danger to female and elderly gardeners and intrusions by vagrants.

The department representatives are supposed to take all of these concerns back to the board of commissioners before it makes its decisions in April.

Click on the video to the top right to hear the public comments and responses from the Department of Recreation and Parks.

Editor's Note: This article has been corrected from an earlier version which misidentified the Senior Park Maintenance Supervisor.

Don Feinstein March 22, 2011 at 02:37 PM
THE SEPULVEDA GARDEN CENTER IS ALREADY OPEN TO THE PUBLIC. It is considered a public park now; and always has been! Gates are open from 7 AM to 3 PM Monday thru Sunday. Anybody can enter and visit the Garden/Park. That has been policy for as long as I can rememeber -- and I've been at the Garden since 1996. There is lot to see. Only restrictions are visitors not enter individual garden plots, pick or take products from individual gardens, obey speed limit of 5 miles per hour, and dogs must be kept on leash. Also the Community Building is open to the public for events or meetings. Regarding having evening or night hours? Who does that anymore? It's just not safe these days. Don Feinstein Gardener at SGC
Ron Fine March 30, 2011 at 10:16 PM
At Ocean View Farms in WLA we are concerned that a cookie cutter approach to managing the gardens might be considered by R&P OVF is not like other gardens. OVF has no staffing from R&P and pays all it’s expenses from a $30.00 a year plot fee. We offer scheduled and requested tours for school classes and other groups. The garden is opened to the community on many occasions. The garden is locked to provide security for members and to discourage theft of personal tools and produce. We have no facilities, such as meeting rooms, that could be used by the general public. We have a 35 year history of our members operating the garden. Over 6,500 hours per year are spend on maintenance chores ranging from cleaning, weeding, and plumbing repairs to maintaining our machinery and composting many tons of garden waste each year. An elected Board of Directors oversees the operation of the garden. Most members of the Board have been gardeners for many years and use the knowledge and experience gained over those years to keep our garden functioning. Setting a three year limit on garden membership would destroy this very successful community garden. New members don’t have the knowledge or experience necessary to run the garden. We are looking for ways to increase our membership but term limits is not the answer. We need R&P to recognize the very different ways community gardens operate and work with us to improve what we have, not destroy it. Ron Fine

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