CARLSBAD — While city staff members presented its fiscal year 2011-2012 Operating Budget Workshop at the June 7 City Council meeting, a select crowd of gardeners waited for their turn to voice concerns about a proposed Parks and Recreation fee increase.Gardeners from the city of Carlsbad’s Harold E. Smerdu Community Garden are opposing a projected 400 percent annual fee increase that would raise their current $60 per year fee to $250, while non-resident fees would reach $350. The annual fees go to pay for use of the plots and water usage.
The new calculations are based on the city’s adoption of a pyramid cost recovery method to determine new appropriate plot fees.
Gardeners received the news in a letter from the city less than a week ago.
“We had very little time to prepare a response to this proposal,” Patrice Smerdu said to the council. “I don’t understand why it appears the garden is being singled out with a huge increase. The only conclusion I can come from without any other information is that this is an effort to eliminate the garden.”
Smerdu said the community garden was established 27 years ago. The two-acre parcel of land has 52 plots with more than 100 gardeners tending to it.
Smerdu’s father, the late Harold Smerdu, the park’s namesake, petitioned the city to turn the acreage into a community garden in the 1980s, which the city did.
Smerdu said she is fearful that the looming high fees, which could go into effect in July, may cause gardeners to abandon their plots.
“I know that my father, if he were alive today, would be saddened to think that the city, with its proud agricultural heritage, would want to see the gardens go away,” she said.
Smerdu understands the need for a possible increase, especially with the rising cost of water, but this proposed hike needs more explanation, she said.
“What we’d like to do is work with staff to see what can be done,” said Smerdu, adding that the gardeners would like a better understanding of the costs running a community garden. “There has been really no involvement between gardeners and staff.”
Following Smerdu’s public comments and loud applause from supporters, other gardeners took to the podium echoing the same type of concerns.
Afterward, Mayor Matt Hall said he’d like to see more dialogue among staff members and the gardeners so that they have a clearer understanding of the increase and not feel as if they are being singled out. Hall said the June 9 Citizens Budget Workshop at the Faraday Center would be the right setting for a cost breakdown.
“I think it’s fair to say that all of us up here would like to have more community gardens,” said Hall, noting that it needs to be figured out in a productive way so everyone is a winner.
Councilmember Farrah Douglas proposed that the community garden plot increase be done in gradual increments over a few years and not all at once.
For Mayor Pro Tem Ann Kulchin, the public comment made by the gardeners was an eye-opener and thanked them for it.
“I knew we had a community garden,” she said. “I had no idea that so many people were involved.”
Smerdu believes that the “gardener presence” at the City Council meeting gave her hope for a better outcome.
“I felt like we had a point where they (City Council) are saying, ‘Let’s stop and really take a look at this before we move forward,’” she said.