The Novato Community Garden organizers are thrilled to come to a lease agreement on a plot of city-owned land, but that doesn't necessarily mean they are any closer to opening the gates and letting local gardeners plant their seeds.
The lease terms at the O'Hair Park site received unanimous approval from the Novato City Council on Tuesday, as reported in the , for 8 percent of net proceeds each year or $1 if there is a net loss.
Veronica Valero, who took the reins of project from founder Karen Losee about six years ago, said there is still a long way to go before people who don't have room for gardens at their homes (including apartment or condo dwellers) have a chance to grow their own food.
About $23,000 has been donated to the cause thus far, but the project needs about $250,000 to get the place open for 60 to 80 gardeners.
"In the past, in the time of the pioneers, it was easy claiming a piece of land," Valero said. "This hasn't been easy at all. We're grateful to get to this point, but we're wary of how long it takes. Novato has a track record of having things take a long time. Look at City Hall, the Community House, the Hamilton pool."
Don Foster, the site manager for the 1.8-acre community garden on the west side of Novato, said he was not 100 percent satisfied with the council's position because of the demands tied to using the city-owned land.
"There are so many restrictions," he said. "It's going to cost us almost $250,000 to meet the conditions, so that's the next hurdle."
How can the public help?
"Send money," Foster said.
Valero, who runs the Novato Live Well Network in addition to a computer tutoring business, had to scale back her involvement with the community garden over the past year because of several personal setbacks, including deaths in the family. In a way, the city of Novato has gone through a similar situation, having hacked it annual budget and laid off almost 20 percent of its workforce over the past three years.
"They've been cutting back on staff and programs, so we knew in 2008 that we would have to do all the work and pay all the fees," Valero said. "But we really didn't know what all that entailed. We didn't know about the permitting process and all the delays. If I knew then what I know now, I wouldn't have touched this."
But a core group of community garden supporters have carried the flag, negotiated with the Friends of and city planners about how the adjacent community garden would be constructed. To follow local codes and ordinances, the garden must include a parking lot and access driveway, which will cost tens of thousands of dollars. Building a water tower and drilling a well will be another big bill for the group.
"You'd think, 'What's so difficult about soil, seeds, sun and water?'" Valero said.
Fundraising is the focus at this point. Anyone interested in donating time, sweat or money should check out the garden's website and contact Valero or Foster.
"Once we have this built, it will be an amazing community asset," Valero said.