The City of Santa Barbara is set to begin renovating the Eastside Neighborhood Park in April this year in a two-phase plan that includes moving the western perimeter of the fence bordering Yanonali Community Garden, effectively removing 20 plots from community use. More than 20 gardeners, of the 70 using the plots, have been protesting the project that was approved by the Santa Barbara Architectural Board of Review in October 2021.
Yanonali Garden is one of two public community gardens in Santa Barbara; the other is on Rancheria Street in the Westside. The group protesting, made up mostly of locals who’ve been working the garden for several years, reached out to councilmembers Alejandra Gutierrez and Eric Friedman, asking the city to reconsider the decision. After receiving no response, the group elected to create a petition urging the public to reach out as well. That effort has garnered more than 490 signatures. The Independent contacted Gutierrez for comment but received no response.
Officially, the decision to renovate the park and decrease the area of the garden was to increase safety and provide more recreational areas for families. The fence realignment would provide space for a walkway through the park.
Michelle McDonnell, recreation supervisor at the Parks and Recreation Department, sent a letter on January 3 to the gardeners who would be impacted by the move, explaining the city’s intention. “The Parks and Recreation Department worked collaboratively with community members to develop a park renovation plan designed to improve park safety and increase recreational opportunities for neighborhood family gatherings and casual play,” McDonnell wrote.
That letter was the first communication sent directly to those farming in the garden, according to Fred Nadis, one of the gardeners speaking out against the renovation. Nadis said the letter pushed other gardeners to begin speaking out. “It’s being presented as this wonderful opportunity,” he said. “But it’s taking away nearly everything we’ve done.”
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As well as renovations to the park and garden, beginning in July, rules regarding renting will be changed so that a household can only rent a single plot. Any gardeners displaced due to the renovation would be offered a new plot, rent free, from July 2022-23, and will be reimbursed the $67 rental fee for the 2021-22 year.
The second phase of the renovations would also drastically change the layout of the garden, including a plan to decrease each individual plot from 10 by 20 feet, to 5 by 10 feet, making each plot a quarter of the size they are currently. It is not clear at this time if the city would continue to charge the $67 annual rental fee when the plots are decreased.
Rob McKelvey, a commercial fisherman and Yanonali gardener, criticized this decision profusely, explaining that reducing the size of the plots so drastically would diminish gardeners’ ability to grow quality food. “It will make them unviable for anything other than a show garden,” McKelvey said. Though he agreed that Eastside Neighborhood Park could be improved and hasn’t been well-maintained, McKelvey said that did not apply to the garden and he did not see why it should suffer just to see the park flourish.
“The ability for me to bring vegetables home and put food on the table is really validating,” he said. “We agree the park could be improved, but it could be done without reducing the garden.”