Pogonip: Imperiled, Once Again

I will post a series of notes here about the quickly emerging proposal to move the Homeless Garden Project to the centerpiece meadow at Pogonip Greenbelt. Their originally designated place, near the entrance to the open space at Golf Club Drive, has lead contamination that the City is going to clean up, at taxpayers’ expense. But, sensing an opportunity to take Center Stage, Homeless Garden proponents and their friends in High Places in the City, are now pushing putting a 10-acre farm, complete with 8′ fences, parking, etc., right smack in the middle of the big meadow, Santa Cruz’ last Big Meadow.


Letters Needed for Upcoming City Council Meeting (9/28)

Please consider writing a letter/email/note and commit to asking 5-10 others to do the same…before this Friday September 24…to ensure that the letters are read by councilmembers before the meeting. Now is an important time to act.

The City Council will decide at its upcoming September 28th meeting whether or not to move forward with the next step of placing a 10-acre private farm in the middle of the main meadow at Pogonip. Email the Council at: citycouncil@cityofsantacruz.com the meeting is set to begin at 11 a.m. on this coming Tuesday Sept 28, but the agenda has not been posted publicly and would be at this site

Many people do not know…the much-beloved Homeless Garden Project was slated to get tucked into the corner of the Pogonip greenbelt near the entrance to Golf Club Drive (aka “Lower Main Meadow’), but they found lead from a historic skeet shooting range there, so…in a hurry to get the farm moved to the Pogonip from its long-time Westside home (where BTW they are welcome to stay) … instead of waiting for the City to clean up the lead … they are pushing for a short-term solution, and a greatly expanded farm in the middle of the vast and beautiful meadow (aka ‘Upper Main Meadow’) that is the centerpiece of our greenbelt: right in front of the historic clubhouse.

This new 10-acre farm will be fenced- excluding the public and wildlife- and the ancient carbon-rich prairie soils will be tilled, releasing lots carbon to the atmosphere. The road to that part of the greenbelt will be widened, utilities sent up the hill, many buildings constructed, parking lots, lights, increased fire danger and more difficult to protect infrastructure, further into our wildlands.

This wild place, reachable on foot, bike, etc., by many of all ages, incomes, and situations and a place of peaceful solace for humans and non-humans alike, will be forever changed. The view of the meadow is woven into our psyches. It is how we feel home. Others, many generations from now, should be able to experience that feeling. Coyotes and hawks, endangered beetles and bats, they have already lost so many of their places.

Below, I’ve placed some of the talking points others have used. If you think of others, please let me know.
Also, please send me a copy of what you send…if you also give me your permission, I’ll post the letters on a publicly available website to illustrate the breadth, determination, love, and thoughtfulness of the opposition.

We have already made great strides- they thought that this would be easier. Together, we can turn this around…find the Homeless Garden Project a great new home and save the heart of the Pogonip at the same time.

Let me know how I can help. – Grey
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Here are some talking points to make in your note to the City Council:

The process has not been transparent: the public has had insufficient notice of the public process.    Suggestion: better notify the public about this process, give us more time to comment, put up bright flagging and ‘story poles’ for us to see the dimensions of what is being considered.

The City shouldn’t waste funding: there are other priorities for Parks    Suggestion: as outlined in the recent Parks Master Plan, the City should focus on priorities such as more accessible playground for children, addressing trail erosion, creating habitat conservation and restoration plans, restoring habitats and removing invasive species.

The City already spent a lot of time and paid a lot of money to for the Pogonip Master Plan as well as for the public process and environmental review of that Plan. Hundreds wrote to protect this meadow at that time. The environmental review clearly stated that it was infeasible to put the Homeless Garden Project in this location because of many serious constraints. Suggestion: none of the previous constraining conditions of the Upper Main Meadow could have changed; if anything, those constraints have increased with time.

The Upper Main Meadow is critical habitat for the Federally endangered Ohlone tiger beetle, habitat for many protected raptors and songbirds, contains rare mima mounds, is covered with threatened coastal terrace prairie, and has extensive wetlands protected by the State and Federal governments. These constraints are insurmountable and damaging these resources is not what Santa Cruzans should do with their greenbelt lands. The City has been unable to mitigate for the damages to endangered species at Arana Gulch, so how do we know they could at this location?

Continuing the process to consider this project will create rifts in our community when we have more constructive things we can do together.

The expansive, open Upper Main Meadow is an important visual resource, with views that define Santa Cruz.

There are no other places for such peaceful passive recreation in close proximity to the City. This meadow is irreplaceable in that way.

This proposal places infrastructure further into the wildlands, increasing fire danger, increasing damage to natural systems from toxic burning buildings, and making it harder for firefighters to protect the lives and property at that location.

Tilling ancient grassland soils irreparably releases greenhouse gasses that cannot be captured in those soils in the original amounts, ever again.

The site would be transferred from current public recreational use to private agriculture use, fenced from the public.  

The funding used to purchase the property was provided by the California Wildlife, Coastal, and Park Land Conservation Act of 1988, which limits use of the property to “open-space, natural, and recreational uses” – excluding allowance for private agricultural endeavors such as the Homeless Garden Project

We have been provided no evidence that the Homeless Garden Project has to move anywhere, any time soon. We have also seen no evidence that they need more space to serve more homeless people.

There are better, viable alternatives: they aren’t getting ‘kicked off’ of the Natural Bridges location they currently occupy and they might very well negotiate for a very long term mutually beneficial solution at that location with Ron Swenson’s proposed Ecovillage which is still under serious consideration; the Lower Main Meadow (once cleaned up, which the City has committed to doing), and; other sites closer to town that are being redeveloped and/or have abandoned businesses. These alternatives will allow the Homeless Garden Project a quicker solution.

Notes from the 9/13/2021 Santa Cruz City Parks and Recreation Commission meeting

The results of this evening’s meeting of the Santa Cruz City Parks and Recreation Commission illustrated how important it is to have community voices engage and how influential the quickly forming coalition to protect the Upper Main Meadow at Pogonip can be….and how much more work we’ll need to do to protect the Pogonip while ensuring an appropriate long-term home for the Homeless Garden Project. 

First the bad news: the Parks Commission voted 4 to 2 to advise the City Council to move forward with considering the move of the Homeless Garden Project to the Upper Main Meadow of Pogonip. The two Commissioners voting in opposition preferred to advise the City Council to reject any further consideration of the Upper Main Meadow site based on environmental concerns and associated cost, delay, and community discord and instead move forward with remediating the Lower Meadow site. 

Many thanks to Gillian Greensite for making an eloquent motion to stop the effort to move the project to the Upper Main Meadow. Gillian referred to the information we brought forward and the City’s confirmation that they are required to clean up the previously approved Lower Meadow site at taxpayer’s expense, which would allow the HGP to proceed with that location. Also, thanks to Dawne Schott-Norris for seconding Gillian’s motion. Parks and Recreation Commission Chair Jane Mio expressed significant concern regarding the environmental impacts of the proposed Main Meadow relocation, but then oddly did not support Gillian’s motion. Vice Chair JM Brown made the opposing motion to move the project forward which was supported by Kristina Glavis and Hollie Locatelli.

While the final vote was disappointing, your written and spoken testimony made a big difference. Without our work, the Commission vote would likely have been unanimous, procedural, and in favor of moving forward without pause to destroy the Pogonip’s centerpiece, its Main Upper Meadow. In a matter of days, we brought to light new, important, and substantial information that will gain momentum in the coming weeks as staff prepare for the City Council meeting to discuss the matter on September 28th and beyond. 

We need your help to share the word about this ill-considered plan and ensure letters and testimony are provided to the City Council.  Please submit your comments (by September 22 if possible) opposing the Main Meadow location as soon as possible to: citycouncil@cityofsantacruz.com  

The September 28 Council meeting will be held via zoom, seeCity of SantaCruz.com/All Meetings 

Here are some talking points: 

The Upper Main Meadow is the heart and crown jewel of the Pogonip Open Space and should be restored as coastal prairie and wetland habitat and not developed for any reason.

The Environmental Impact Report for the approved Pogonip Master Plan explicitly determined that the Upper Main Meadow is not an acceptable site for the Homeless Garden Project due to myriad significant environmental impacts associated with that location.

The original state funding source that supported acquisition of the Pogonip was for open space, watershed restoration, and habitat protection and does not allow use as a commercial farm.

The Lower Meadows site should be cleaned up expeditiously to remove the lead contamination on site.

If the Homeless Garden Project no longer wants to relocate to the approved Lower Meadow site, it should consider options such as a permanent location at its current site on the Westside or leasing land zone for agricultural use. 

Please let more folks who you know might be interested know about this. If you are reading this and want to get periodic updates, please let me know and I’ll put you on the email list.

*note that the image featured with this post is entitled Pogonip II and is used by permission from the artist Tom Killion. Check out his website where he makes his beautiful art available. All rights reserved.

2 comments

  1. Hi Grey, Thanks for the news of this development. Is this a done deal? Very strange, I know Jan Mio, through my spouse’s participation with the Valley Women’s club. It doesn’t sound like a vote she would make. There is also a Women’s Club person named Nancy Macy who is usually lined up in support of environmental issues. While she focuses on the San Lorenzo River she has commented on land use issues. Hal

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    1. Hi Hal, No this isn’t a done deal at all. And yeah, Jane’s vote was very strange indeed. She thought it was strategic somehow to send the concerns to the Council. We’ll see. I hope Nancy can help with this one. We need all the help we can get.

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