Along the trail that leads through the upper meadow of Pogonip, signs are posted calling on community members to protest the relocation of the Homeless Garden Project, said Carrie Major on Tuesday evening.
Major was one of the 30-plus people who called in to discuss the Homeless Garden Project’s speculated relocation to the Upper Meadows of Pogonip at Tuesday’s city council meeting.
The relocation is proving to be contentious, with advocates on either side sharing strong opinions in favor and in opposition. Many of the callers opposing the relocation shared their support for the Homeless Garden Project, a nonprofit organic garden that provides job training to people in Santa Cruz who are experiencing homelessness. But those same callers cited environmental and fiscal concerns regarding the garden’s relocation.
“I support the Project’s work, but I implore them to stop pursuing this controversial move,” said Rebecca Sinclair, who said she was a longtime Santa Cruz resident. “Another location will have less environmental impacts, and this allocation of funds will be the first of thousands of dollars that will be required to pursue this divisive project. This is not the way I want my tax money to be spent.”
The Homeless Garden Project has been looking for a permanent home for more than 20 years. In 1998, the City adopted the Pogonip Master Plan, which placed the garden in the lower meadows. But because it was previously used as a skeet shooting range, it was later found that the soil there was contaminated with lead, rendering the land unfarmable.
After this discovery, the project issued a request for the council to consider the garden’s relocation to the upper meadows. The council first heard the proposal in August and has since received dozens of letters from residents opposing the move.
The nonprofit hopes to move to the upper meadows of Pogonip in part due to its central location, accessibility for its clients, and also because of its wide-open space.
“Space for a large farm is really limited,” said Tony Elliot, Santa Cruz’s parks and recreation director. “Pogonip is our largest single property, at 640 acres.”
Elliot also said the proposed plan will include an environmental review that will identify the implications of the relocation on the plants and animals inhabiting the land.
“That’s part of a phase that we will undertake here over the next three or four months or so,” Elliot said. “Our bionics analysis will help us know what are the conditions in the upper meadow and if this is feasible.”
The estimated cost for the environmental review and related consultant fees will be around $102,500, which will come from the city’s General Fund.
The council unanimously approved these expenses and confirmed the schedule and process to potentially change the Pogonip Master Plan to allow for the relocation. Council members stressed that the decision does not confirm the garden’s relocation to the upper meadows.
“I hear some urgency and concern about making this move, and again I know it’s been stated, but I’ll just reiterate what we’re talking about here is opening up a process,” said council member Sandy Brown.
Council also reiterated the patience the organization has shown for the past two decades, as a home for a permanent garden is determined.
“We have made a commitment to this organization that has been waiting for a permanent home for 23 years,” said Santa Cruz Mayor Donna Meyers. “Nonprofits are incredible. They do the work that government and business doesn’t do.”