The current building plan set to be where the community garden stands is yet to be approved by city council.
By Karla Orellana
Signs reading “Save the garden” and “Stop the concrete jungle” greeted me as I pulled into the half-full parking lot off Campus Drive in Serramonte. I packed my belongings and walked across the makeshift gravel road.
The cold didn’t seem to phase Erick Campbell as he paced frantically at the edge of his shed— letting the wind pry at his arms sticking out of his sleeveless shirt. The local volunteer gripped a stack of papers. He greeted both myself and my company.
“They’re threatening to sue me,” Campbell said.
Jefferson Union High School District had given Campbell an ultimatum: stop modifications or further action would be taken.
Why does the school district care? Jefferson Union High School District is planning the development of their Serramonte Del Rey project, in which the district plans to build a 22-acre space for retail, affordable housing, restaurants, trails and parks. If approved, the district would build 1,100 housing units alongside the rest over the course of the next 10-15 years.
The project website states that only 20% of the housing will be affordable and the rest will be set at market-rate. However, at the Daly City Council Meeting in September, it was stated that they would only set 10% of the housing at affordable rates.
The district would make revenue by leasing the land to the developer that makes the housing, said Trustee Kalimah Salahuddin, who is on the project committee.
The proposal hopes to be a solution to the desperate need for housing in Daly City and the district’s lack of funding.
“We are a school district that is trying to educate some of the most vulnerable students with the highest needs in San Mateo County,” said Salahuddin.
Despite approval from staff, faculty and parts of the community, the project was met with widespread criticism. Garden volunteers, students and a local grassroots organization, 4 Daly City, demanded the preservation of the Daly City Community Garden.
The project website says the space will be used as a parking structure for future residents.
“We want to preserve the spaces that we have here for the youth and the community, which need it the most,” said Jas, one of the main organizing members of 4 Daly City.
Campbell said that the district has been targeting the garden for about 5 or 6 years, citing ADA non-compliance, and calling it a hazard to students and visitors on the grounds of unsafe expansion.
Despite efforts to comply with district demands, such as getting background checks and stopping the expansion, Campbell feared there would be no way to find a middle ground with the district.
He knows the greenery as a safe haven for local students and others who enjoy gardening and has made efforts to preserve it, even as he and other volunteers were faced with a forced shut down of the garden in February.
He moved the stack of papers he had been holding earlier and let me read from the field report. It had been filed by Rockridge Geotechnical and was stapled to the back of a district letter asking Campbell not to expand the land anymore as they did not want the modifications to develop into a global slope stability concern.
The report stated that though they had not observed any notable slope stability issues caused by the recent modifications, they had to warn that these modifications “generally have the potential to decrease slope stability.”
“I plan on staying,” said Campbell. He plans to continue fighting for the preservation no matter what.
Discussions regarding the future of the garden started 3 or 4 years ago. One of the original suggestions was to use the garden space as a place to keep construction equipment, said Trustee Nick Occhipinti.
He said the garden space had always been open, public, cultivated green space for as long as he can remember. It was never restricted to just employees or any particular residents.
“It was always open to the community at large— to the public,” said Occhipinti.
The garden’s purpose after it’s reopening in the late 90s was to be a small plot of land to be shared by the school and the community. One of the main arguments now is due to the confusion on whether the garden was built on public or private property.
“There is no community garden currently,” said Salahuddin, “there’s a school garden.” She argues that as all school property is accessible to the community so is the garden.
The plan remains to use the space for retail and housing with a looming question: where is the district building going to go?
The district had originally told the public that the funding and the plan was to renovate the district building; however, without approval from the community or himself, the plan was changed, said Occhipinti. The building will be moved to what is currently known as Westmoor Park in Daly City.
A member of 4 Daly City, who chose to remain anonymous, recalled the moment many families found out Westmoor Park would be demolished to make space for the building. Parents and families were outraged at the thought that they were never informed, even going as far as to ask what they could do to help save the park.
“The school board tried to say they had a town hall meeting but none of us knew about [it]— not even the community,” said the member.
Trustee Occhipinti assured that the discussion wasn’t over yet. Both the board and the community needed to work together to come to a better compromise that would benefit everyone.
“At the city council level, they have delayed the project discussion to be able to provide some more time and space for that discussion to happen,” said Occhipinti.
The motion was denied in a City Council meeting this last September and is scheduled to be revisited in January, 2022.
- This article was updated 12/13/21 to clarify percentage rate of affordable housing for the housing project.
- We also corrected “Jaz” to the correct spelling “Jas”