Portland, Or: Public gardens are not on firm ground in budget
- Subject: [cg] Portland, Or: Public gardens are not on firm ground in budget
- From: Adam36055@aol.com
- Date: Thu, 10 Mar 2005 14:24:56 EST
Public gardens are not on firm ground in budget
Portland's Parks Bureau would like the program to be self-sufficient, but
gardeners say they need public support to survive
Thursday, March 10, 2005
From her corner office on the 13th floor of The Portland Building, Parks
Bureau director Zary Santner sees a sweeping view of north and east Portland --
and a way for the city's public gardeners to enjoy their pastime without
long-term financial help from taxpayers.
From his rented plots at the Brentwood Community Garden in Southeast
Portland, gardener William Cepurna sees a cell phone tower, an unassuming middle-class
neighborhood -- and sure death for the program without further taxpayer help.
"I just don't see how you can say we will survive," he said. "I just don't
know how you can really make that statement."
Although the garden program accounts for less than 1 percent of the Portland
Bureau of Parks & Recreation budget, it has become the cause celebre of this
year's spending debate, and a prime example of the challenges facing city
leaders and their constituents.
Santner needs to cut costs. For next year's budget, the Portland City Council
is looking to trim $8 million from the general fund -- the $300 million pot
that is used to pay for basic services -- and the city's parks are competing
for that money against the police and fire bureaus, among others.
Beyond the $8 million, more trims are coming. The city is currently operating
in the black, but economists predict Portland may need to cut as much as $19
million over the next five years. Revenues are rising, but costs are rising
For her part, Santner proposes phasing out city funding for smaller programs
and facilities that are relatively costly to run, attract relatively few users
or seem as if they could win private support. Among the facilities that could
lose city funding under the proposal are the Pittock Mansion, the Multnomah
Arts Center, Camp Ky-o-wa near Sandy and the Hillside, Sellwood and Fulton
community centers. Taken separately, each amounts to a tiny percentage of the
Parks Bureau's annual budget. But as a whole, they offer hundreds of thousands of
dollars in potential savings, and a chance to refocus the department on
services that pay for themselves or can survive through partnerships with the
Santner bristles at the suggestion that she's recommending killing any
program. Rather, she says the city needs to work with participants to find other
sources of money and management.
"The well is drying up, and we have got to be very, very innovative in how we
continue to provide services," she said. "But the question is not eliminating
services. It's 'How can we continue the services by doing them differently?'
30 years old
Portland's Community Gardens program celebrates its 30th anniversary this
year. Today, 2,800 people garden at about 980 plots across the city, according to
the Parks Bureau. The city spends about $115,000 annually providing gardeners
with water, compost, basic maintenance, garbage pickup and one full-time
staff position to help set up educational programs and manage plot rentals. The
city, which self-insures, also covers insurance costs on the gardens.
The Parks Bureau charges $45 a year rent on a 20-by-20-foot piece of land,
$23 for a 10-by-20-foot plot and $15 for a 4-by-8-foot bed. To cover costs, the
city would need to charge at least $115 for the largest plots, according to
the bureau's proposed budget.
"I'm afraid that cities are increasingly turning their backs on community
gardens, but Portland has been one of the models for a long time," said Betsy
Johnson, executive director of the American Community Gardening Association,
based in New York.
The city could keep raising rents to make the gardens self-sufficient. But
that would price out many gardeners, Santner says. Instead, she's recommending
giving the gardens another year of money and city assistance to either find
private benefactors or form volunteer-led nonprofits to oversee the gardens. And
she's open to the possibility of continuing city support beyond next year if
"It's not like we're going to walk away after one year and let them loose,"
Santner said. "We'll continue to help until they're able to do everything. We
will make sure they succeed, and we want to work with them to make sure they
Gardners say they need aid
Cepurna and other gardeners say they don't see another way for the program to
survive outside of city support. There's too much work involved in managing
the gardens for volunteers to handle it all and some of the costs -- most
notably insurance at the gardens -- could be substantially higher for a private
group than city government.
So far, Community Gardens activists haven't wanted or needed to work with the
Parks Bureau on alternatives to city funding. Instead, they've been working
with City Hall.
City commissioners say they've been flooded with e-mails from gardeners and
garden supporters. Gardeners have delivered produce to Commissioner Dan
Saltzman and packed budget hearings. They've inspired Commissioner Randy Leonard to
say, repeatedly, that he's committed to protecting the gardens. "They're off
the table," he said this week. "Off. The. Table."
"Community gardeners are sort of hobby farmers, and farmers aren't going to
roll over without a fight," said Will Levenson, a gardener active in Friends of
Portland Community Gardens, a nonprofit. The group has encouraged its members
to fight the proposed cut by traditional means, say writing letters to
Santner and Mayor Tom Potter -- "Be candid. Be direct. Be persuasive. Be real. Write
again and again," goes the advice on the nonprofit's Web site -- and less
traditional ones, such as taping love letters about gardening to Community
Despite the effort, Santner is sticking by her recommendation. She says this
is a debate the city is going to keep having as budget problems extend into
future years. But the Parks Bureau will remain a likely target for cuts, and
that means programs such as Community Gardens will remain vulnerable.
Santner wants to shift the discussion. "We are not eliminating these
services. We are not selling properties. We believe the Community Gardens are very,
very important, and we are committed to making sure that people still have plots
to garden in," she said. "But some programs offer us opportunities to look at
continuing services differently. Community Gardens is one of those."
Anna Griffin: 503-294-5988; email@example.com
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