A Good Meeting on the Yanonali Community Gardens

By Chauncey Gardener

What a difference a passage of time makes! Back a month or so, Santa Barbara Parks & Recreation held a meeting at the Yanonali Community Garden with the gardeners. It seemed close to a “them” vs “us” and each, probably, left dissatisfied, if not, some, angered and resentful.

Certainly, that was so for the gardeners: It was a question/answer session where gardeners felt talked at and not heard. We gardeners at Yanonali can’t know what Staff thought; Parks Director Zachary sat off to the side and said nothing. Councilmembers Jordan and O. Gutierrez were also present, looked at the graphics, asked no questions of us and seemed adjuncts of Staff. Although there was a token move of the proposed fence location, the good feelings we had had after talking with Parks & Rec. alternate liaison councilmember Sneddon, and Mayor Rowse, were near erased.

Beneath all the “will”, “can’t”, “must” words, the basic issue was simple: whose community garden is it? P&R seemed to act as if the Community Garden was theirs, just a slice of the overall Yanonali Park that they controlled and managed. The gardeners seemed to think that the garden belonged to the gardeners, most of whom come from within the biking and walking-distance neighborhood.

The truth lies in between: the Community Garden belongs to the city, predates the Park, and, along with the only other community garden, Westside’s Rancheria, is part of common neighborhood heritage. P&R manages; gardeners object to the Garden being a seemingly secondary part of the park, secondary to the wishes for “adult exercise” equipment, which dictates where the garden west boundary fence is to be located, and which gardeners think has alternative locations or at least could be moved back.

The meeting was to start at 11:30; gardeners assembled from 10:30 on, hoping to blend in-person and email communications and come up with a unified approach. We were encouraged by a recent email from lead spokesperson Rich Hanna, Recreation Manager for the Parks & Rec. (There is no garden and plant specialist at the managerial level; perhaps there should be?)

His email tone and words were different this Saturday: “This will be a conversation we would like to have….” Re razing all the beds, as proposed, costly and unnecessary, we have pointed out: “We are open to this discussion on Saturday” (and) “It might be worth considering…” noting positive and useful ideas; and “Happy to discuss on Saturday”.

Hurrah for speaking _with_, not at us! and so the pre-meeting conversations were upbeat and unified, despite coming from people of differing backgrounds and gardening skills: we like it as it is, the 10 x20 plots, and that’s how the subsequent presentation went. One of the three options being considered is no change. Whichever of the three, 10 x 20, as now, with some smaller plots; the garden won’t be razed; gardeners’ years of work and $$$ for soil won’t be destroyed, uprooted. The main paths will be made more accessible, ADA-compliant; and there’ll be opportunities for mulch and compost; the eastern edge truck-width road-like access, taking away precious gardening space, has been abandoned.

The only point still a problem: the old lemon tree will, happily, be inside the garden but only by 6″. The tree is a symbol of the Community Garden, probably there since the garden’s beginning in the 1970’s, cared for by gardeners, needing help now. Not all feel so strongly but those of us who do do not understand why the pathway and exercise machines could not spare a couple of feet more of realignment.

Rich Hanna said they will be back to us in about three weeks with plans incorporating the discussions of Saturday. Later there will be specifics of when work will be done, when the locks will be changed, as is greatly needed, and all other relatively minor details. We look forward to moving ahead: since October, there’s been a burden on the Yanonali Garden that now seems to be lifting.

As a gardener said on Saturday afternoon, “It was a good meeting!”

—Because of publication time, this has not been shared with all gardeners and may not be the opinions of all. Parks & Rec. did do two surveys, one of the Yanonali Park as a whole (111 responses); and more recently the Community Garden survey (67 responses) here

Seems appropriate: “It is the long history of humankind (and animal kind, too) that those who learned to collaborate and improvise most effectively have prevailed.” – Charles Darwin

Op-Ed’s are written by community members, not representatives of edhat. The views and opinions expressed in Op-Ed articles are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect those of edhat. 
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Written by Chauncey Gardener

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