An official of the city's Department of Recreation and Parks admitted to errors in a report on figuring the costs of community gardens during a meeting Wednesday at the Sepulveda Garden Center in Encino. More than 50 local green thumbs showed up for the meeting, conducted by the city to assess public concerns about a garden fee hike.
Last July, the Board of Recreation and Park Commissioners changed the parks department's schedule of rates and fees. In an effort to increase revenue, one of the many changes the board made was to increase the annual rental fee for a community garden plot from $25 to $120. Gardeners were upset because they were not consulted beforehand about a fee hike.
After protests from gardeners throughout Los Angeles, the fee was suspended until a more conclusive study on each of the city’s 14 public gardens could be made.
At Wednesday's meeting, Encino gardener Susan Heyer said that in a subsequent parks department report on garden costs, released Jan. 5, figures for the Sepulveda Garden Center were filled with errors. She addressed her comments to Abel Perez, the parks department's senior maintenance supervisor, who helped write the report.
Heyer said the report showed inflated costs of water and tools, and double taxation to gardeners.
"We found so much flawed information in that report, so many phony figures, so many bogus claims to expense that I hope and assume that has been tossed out and you are starting over," she said.
Perez admitted to errors in the report, attributing them to having been rushed, and said officials were working on correcting the report and finding ways to cut costs.
Local gardener Susan Pingleton also spoke, pointing out that the city is missing several opportunities to save money, such as using xeriscaping techniques to conserve water.
"If you're really looking to recoup [costs], don't do it on the backs of the gardeners," she said. "You have this beautiful facility. It's underutilized...We have a beautiful rose garden, a beautiful cactus garden; these places could be rented out to people [for events]."
But for most of the gardeners in the room, there was only one question on their minds: Are the rates going up?
That decision won’t be made without the approval of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. Sepulveda Garden Center is located on land owned by the corps and leased to the city. The corps has final jurisdiction over park lands and must approve all fee increases.
In an email to Encino Patch on Wednesday, the Army Corps of Engineers said, “To date, we have not received a request from the city regarding a plot fee increase.”
The city and the corps are expected to decide on a fee and announce it on April 6 at the Board of Recreation and Parks Commissioners meeting. But they are also discussing another controversial idea.
"One of the things we're really looking to enshrine in this policy is having public open space be open," said the department's management analyst Darryl Ford, who along with Perez, City Planning Associate Melinda Gejer, and Principal Grounds Maintenance Supervisor Juan Benitez, ran the meeting.
During operating hours, the Sepulveda Garden Center is supervised by an employee of the Department of Recreation and Parks. For the safety of the gardeners, and to deter theft, there is a walk-in gate with a combination lock for after-hours use.
Several of the gardeners said that opening the Sepulveda Garden Center to the public would bring problems, including after-hours vandalism, theft of produce, increased danger to female and elderly gardeners and intrusions by vagrants.
The department representatives are supposed to take all of these concerns back to the board of commissioners before it makes its decisions in April.
Click on the video to the top right to hear the public comments and responses from the Department of Recreation and Parks.
Editor's Note: This article has been corrected from an earlier version which misidentified the Senior Park Maintenance Supervisor.