A proposed educational garden and kitchen at 4th Street and Montana Avenue will be able to hold frequent classes and fundraisers despite concerns from neighbors about noise, light and traffic.

City Council voted unanimously Tuesday to double the number of small events the Rainbow Garden will be allowed to hold, rejecting an appeal from residents that asked the garden to hold only classes and fundraisers, go dark by 9 p.m. on weeknights and 10 p.m. on weekend nights, and close on weekends and holidays. The appeal also argued that the garden’s fence should be transparent for better integration with the neighborhood and requested that parking for events larger than 50 people be provided offsite.

The Rainbow Garden, which will offer food education for children free of charge, has been in the works since 2015. Founders Thao and Sherman Ma, who own the property at 401 Montana Ave. and live with their children nearby, intend to model it on chef Alice Water’s Edible Schoolyard in Berkeley. The garden will take up most of the lot, fronting a one-story kitchen and classroom.

“We feel children are disconnected from food because they don’t get that experience we want to offer with the garden,” Thao Ma told Council Tuesday. “There are schools in Santa Monica with gardens but they don’t have the facilities we would have and they don’t have teaching kitchens.”

The garden will primarily host visiting school groups during the week, but the Mas say they also want to be able to hold weekend classes for families and adults and community fundraisers.

Councilmember Terry O’Day, who initiated the motion to deny the appeal, said the City should allow the Rainbow Garden to hold classes outside of school hours so people of all ages can learn how to garden and cook.

“(The Rainbow Garden) is a wonderfully generous and inspiring gift from the Ma family,” O’Day said. “What I’m seeing in the appeal is a contortion of the code in search of technicalities to slow or stop this gift from coming to fruition. Every other city in the county would be tripping over themselves to receive this gift.”

The Planning Commission previously granted the Rainbow Garden the ability to hold one event with up to 20 people once a week and one event larger than 20 people once a month, far more than what City staff proposed. Council decided to allow the garden to hold two small events per week and stipulated that it must notify neighbors of any events larger than 50 people. The City will review its compliance three years after the garden opens.

Planning Commission Chair Mario Fonda-Bonardi told Council that commissioners allowed the garden to hold more events to give them enough flexibility to succeed as a nonprofit.

“They may have to fund it by giving classes to adults or other school districts,” Fonda-Bonardi said. “We do not want to tie their hands in such a way that if they fail, everyone would say ‘well, the City made them fail for making them so tight in their scheduling … there was no way they could succeed’.”

Anne Burkley, a neighbor who filed the appeal, said she supports the mission of the Rainbow Garden but feels that hosting events until 10 p.m. on weeknights and 11 p.m. on weekend nights will disturb neighbors. While the Mas are working with the City to create a loading zone in front of the garden, Burkley said she still believes parking will become an issue.

“It’s not a question of whether this is a great idea, it’s a question of whether the (permit) is appropriate for the neighborhood we live in,” she said.


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