Joshua Beroukhim, a future Santa Monica College student, walks by a vacant lot on the corner of 16th Street and Delaware Avenue on Monday afternoon. Some residents want City Hall to purchase the lot and create a community garden. (photo by Brandon Wise)

DELAWARE AVENUE — There’s an undeveloped piece of land that lies unnoticeable in the shadow of Woodlawn Cemetery, sitting largely vacant except for a scattering of trash and a decrepit sofa.

It is on that corner of 16th Street and Delaware Avenue where a group of residents are calling on city officials to build a community garden, arguing that while such resources have been developed throughout the city, one has never been created in the Pico Neighborhood.

“We feel that it would not only revitalize that area, but it would give the residents an opportunity to turn blight into something beautiful,” Oscar de la Torre, a long-time resident and school board member, said.

The property is located on a quiet corner just north of the cemetery, surrounded by single-family homes and apartment buildings. The Los Angeles County Assessors’ Office values the land at $612,000 according to 2008 roll values.

Karen Ginsberg, the assistant director of community and cultural services, said that city staff is not looking into purchasing the property but is instead currently focusing its efforts on creating a registry that would match homeowners with open space with residents who like to garden, but have no room. The registry is set to launch soon.

“We do support long-range strategies in neighborhoods where opportunities are scarce,” Ginsberg said. “But those endeavors are costly.”

She said in addition to acquiring such properties, there are also costs in preparing the lots for gardening and ongoing maintenance.

City Hall considered a small property on Stewart Street just north of Olympic Boulevard several years ago, opting against it because it needed significant improvements. The property was also not for sale at the time, Ginsberg said.

There are three community gardens which altogether have about 117 plots, located on Main Street, Park Drive, and the newest addition in Euclid Park. Applicants must be a Santa Monica resident and pay $60 annually for their plot of land. Residents on average remain on the waiting list for about five years.

Councilman Kevin McKeown said he has looked at several candidates over the past several months, including the lot on the corner of Delaware and an abandoned property on 18th Street just north of Wilshire Boulevard.

He said the owner of the property on 18th Street has no immediate development plans and is having a difficult time maintaining the lot.

“The gardeners could turn blight into blooms and broccoli,” he said.

Irma Carranza, a member of the Pico Neighborhood Association, spoke of a long desire among residents for a community garden, something she believes would be tended to very well.

“The majority of families here live in apartment buildings,” she said. “We don’t have access to yards, we don’t have access to little patios where we could have some home-grown vegetables.”

She adds that a community garden would also serve as a gathering place for the neighborhood, where the “comadres and compadres” could get together.

“They can meet and talk about the kids, socialize and talk about life and general to see how each other is doing,” she said.

de la Torre said that if purchased by City Hall, the property could be used for a community garden in the interim while officials figure out other uses for the site, perhaps affordable housing.

“We just feel it is a good investment for the city to purchase the lot and start with a community garden,” he said. “As time goes on, we’ll see.”

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