Nearly a year ago, on Earth Day, the Gilroy Demonstration Garden celebrated and announced plans for its heavenly half-acre in downtown Gilroy to blossom into a full-fledged community garden, a grow-your-own site for fulfilling vegetable dreams.
The garden had just fought off City Council attempts to reduce funding and begun an ambitious fundraising campaign for a new fence. An inspiring YouTube video touted the vision of a flourishing oasis in an urban setting.
Before the year was out, however, the city gave the garden an eviction notice, effectively shutting down the 2019 planting season. Then the garden’s new high-energy president moved out of town, and its future was suddenly in limbo.
The Eigleberry Street site, between Sixth and Seventh streets, sits idle, its perennial flowers and lavender bushes competing with knee-high grasses and rampant sorrel. Once the rainy season ends and Gilroy’s summer heat returns, what had been expected to be a year of rebirth for an expanded Gilroy Community Garden likely will become a thicket of withering, desiccating weeds in another downtown vacant lot.
Current garden board president Walter Dunckel, the city’s facilities superintendent, and last year’s president, Steven Stratton, said this week that City Manager Gabriel Gonzalez told them they would have to shut down the community garden to make way for construction of a one-acre parking lot. A half-acre vacant lot sits next to the current garden site. Both parcels are city-owned.
“They’re talking about putting up a parking lot in that spot,” said Dunckel.
The two men said Gonzales told them the garden might be able to find a new home one mile to the west, next to the Miller Red Barn at Christmas Hill Park—away from downtown, its blue-collar neighborhoods and persistent vandalism and theft problems, and closer to more affluent westside neighborhoods.
Dunckel said he remains hopeful things will work out for the garden, although he said there is no timetable, no plan and no promise of a new home for the garden.
“We’re looking at the possibility of moving the garden to the ranch side of Christmas Hill Park,” Dunckel said this week.
He said he and his board are hoping they can meet with Gonzales to get some kind of commitment to enable the community garden board to move to its new home sometime this year.
Gonzales and the city did not respond this week to inquiries about the garden closure. He has not presented any plans to the City Council for construction of a surface parking lot at the current site.
“The lack of downtown parking is an issue,” said Mayor Roland Velasco in his State of the City address in March. He made no mention of a community garden in his vision for downtown revitalization.
A year ago, advocates expressed the hope that the garden would become a focal point to grow community roots and produce thousands of pounds of nutritious, organic food.
“Vital, vibrant and attractive in the heart of downtown,” Stratton said of his vision for the future of the garden. “We will teach people how to grow their own food.”
For years, the downtown garden site relied entirely on volunteers to maintain the grounds. Schools made field trips to learn about growing vegetables. Seniors and visitors to the veterans center next door found the garden offered a quiet place to sit—or pull a few weeds.
But Dunckel said the site also was plagued by vandalism and food thefts. He said he is hopeful that a new setting in Christmas Hill park will provide better security, better sources of water and a more serene, friendly neighborhood.
It remained unclear whether the move would require any City Council action, or whether Gonzalez would recommend an increase—or decrease—in the $14,500 annual support for the garden in his 2019-2020 budget.