La Jolla High plan riles up gardeners

A small community garden could go the way of the wind if La Jolla High School’s principal gets his way.

Principal Dana Shelburne said he started three years ago to track down ownership of the 20-foot-by-50-foot parcel that adjoins a like-sized piece of the city-owned alley. Today one can find an array of vegetables and herbs growing there, tucked in behind surrounding houses and the school.

Shelburne said he’s learned the school district owns the land, which abuts a concrete wall adjacent to and below the school’s faculty parking lot where four spaces are now occupied by a batting cage for the softball team.

It’s not clear how long the latest garden has been there, but several people said it’s been planted on and off for decades.

The issue surfaced when a “notice of application” was posted late last month at the entrance to an alley off Draper Street leading to the garden. That notice asks the city to “vacate an alley and unused deed of dedication to be used by La Jolla High School.”

Dave Easter, one of the residents upset at the prospect of losing the small oasis, said last week that the garden is the work of a couple dozen people, including one woman who died last year.

“We really enjoy it,” he said, adding that several classes from the high school have volunteered there and some teachers use it as a teaching tool.

Some of the neighbors “think the school is bullying its way in,” Easter said. He said they want to see the city’s documents to clarify ownership of the spot.

Lesley Henegar of the city’s planning department said last week that the city’s Real Estate Assets Department was working on confirming ownership of the land. However, she added, right now it is public right of way.

Shelburne has recruited LJHS Foundation member Mike Gay, an attorney, to take on the project of getting the land back. They say the land is owned by the school district and was dedicated to the city in 1963 with a condition that if it was not used as a roadway or alley, ownership would revert to the district.

“There used to be a fence there, but the gardeners took it down,” Shelburne said.

A few years ago, Shelburne said he, the softball coach and others cleaned out the area, which was littered with a rusty barbecue and trash, and brought in a Bobcat to cut down the weeds. Now, he said, the garden people “are squatting on the land.”

Gay said, “We’re not anti-garden. ... It doesn’t matter who controls the property. They just have no business putting their garden there.”

Instead, the school needs the land so it can move the batting cage and get back four parking spots and remove cars neighborhood streets, he added.

Easter said if the school owns the land, then their concerns will likely be moot, but they’re not giving up until they have all the information.

The decision ultimately will be made by the City Council, after hearings before La Jolla’s Development Permit Review Committee and the Community Planning Association, said CPA president Joe LaCava. He said he’s gotten about a half-dozen calls from people who live in the neighborhood.

A date has not been set for any hearings.