Public garden a possibility for San Pablo Park

By Jim Emerson, Special to the Daily Planet
Wednesday July 03, 2002

A proposal to develop community gardens and a nonprofit plant nursery in the San Pablo Park neighborhood is expected to be submitted to the Berkeley City Council in time for possible consideration July 9. 

The proposal asks City Council to start negotiating a lease with Building Opportunities for Self-Sufficiency’s Urban Garden Institute, which wants to use two vacant parcels in the southwest flatlands near the intersection of Sacramento and Oregon streets.  

The undeveloped lots are part of the old Santa Fe Railroad right-of-way. 

This partnership between the Urban Gardening Institute (BUGI) and Building Opportunities for Self-Sufficiency (BOSS) was recently awarded a $300,000 Community Food Projects Grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture to expand local programs.  

The USDA grant, which can be used through September 2003, would cover $50,000 in initial costs for fencing, developing the garden, an electrical line, irrigation and miscellaneous expenses. Two other federal grants totaling $83,900 would cover staff expenses.  

BOSS also expects to generate revenues from plant sales. 

Final approval will require posting notices in the neighborhood for a public hearing. Approvals and permits for the project are needed from the City Council, Zoning Board of Adjustment and Planning Commission, before BOSS can convert the grassy parcels to community gardens and a seedling nursery for the public and Bay Area farmers. 

The proposal was skimmed through and discussed for one hour on June 27, before receiving the endorsement of the San Pablo Neighborhood Council. A total of 444 nearby residents have signed petitions in support of creating community gardens, which have been forwarded to the City Council. 

Other groups supporting the plan include the Russell Oregon California Streets Neighborhood Association, West Berkeley Neighborhood Development Corp., The Ecology Center, Berkeley Food Policy Council and the Alameda County Community Food Bank, said Daniel Miller, project director at the BOSS Urban Gardening Institute.  

“I think this is going to be a slam dunk,” said Linda Maio, councilmember representing District 1. Maio had been considering the feasibility of using one of the parcels to build affordable housing, but changed her mind after meeting with representatives of BOSS. 

“I’m probably one of the biggest supporters of the project now,” added Maio. “I’m a big gardening advocate, particularly when it’s linked to jobs and economic survival.” 

BUGI provides vocational job training in horticulture for people in transition from homelessness and drug abuse. Participants learn how to grow food and how to find or create their own employment. The group already grows organic foods distributed free to homeless shelters and low-income residents. Free job training classes and a computer lab are offered at the organization’s offices at 2880 Sacramento St. 

BUGI wants more space to expand job-training programs and raise money through sales of native plants and herbs. BOSS offers about 18 free classes annually. “We don’t have enough space to do what we want to do,” Miller said. 

Project plans include an outdoor classroom, greenhouse, shade-house, water gardens, a small orchard, benches and a pathway connecting Oregon Street with Sojourner Court for a possible future bicycle path. The gardens would be fenced and gated for security with daytime staff seven days a week and kept locked at night, Miller said. 

BOSS now provides social services for more than 3,500 people annually at 27 locations in Alameda County. In 2001, BOSS traded 12,873 lettuce, tomato and celery seedlings in exchange for food served at shelters. Firme Farms of Justine, Calif. benefited because it didn’t have to lay out cash for plantings prior to harvest. 

BUGI presently maintains two community gardens in Berkeley. One grows adjacent to the tool library on Martin Luther King Jr. Way, between Russell and Oregon streets. A second garden called the Harrison House Shelter Garden is situated near the corner of Fourth Street at 711 Harrison St. 

Two other community gardens are managed by the BOSS partnership in Oakland, the 59th Garden between Market and Adeline streets and the California Hotel Community Garden, behind 3501 San Pablo Ave.