City Council backs community garden incentive plan

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SAN DIEGO — A proposal to create an incentive for owners to set aside vacant property in San Diego for urban agriculture was approved by the City Council on a 7-0 vote Monday.

Under the Urban Agriculture Incentive Zone program, property owners will be allowed to enter into contracts at least five years long with the city and county of San Diego to allow their vacant, unimproved or blighted land to be used for agricultural uses, like community gardens.

A landowner would benefit, in return, when a piece of property is assessed using the per-acre value of irrigated cropland in California, which would be lower than a normal assessment. No zoning changes would be required.

The property has to be between one-tenth of an acre and three acres, and the entire parcel will need to be dedicated to agricultural use. The property also must be in an area where community gardens are already allowed by the city.

Councilman Scott Sherman, who led the measure through the council, said he farms a plot of land at the community garden in San Carlos. He said gardening teaches life lessons for children.

“So many times nowadays, kids are involved in that fast-paced, instant gratification world of television and video games and those kinds of things,” Sherman said.

“Gardening gets you to slow down a little bit, it makes you realize what hard work, perseverance and a little bit of knowledge — learning how to water properly, how to till the soil, understanding the right nutrients, and then seeing the fruits of your labors, being able to enjoy the fruits of your labors,” Sherman said.

The county has plans to establish an incentive zone in unincorporated areas within the next three months, according to Ron Roberts, chairman of the Board of Supervisors.

The incentive program was authorized by the state Legislature in January 2014. The state law requires that contracts be entered into by the end of 2018.