Community

Block Party Brings Together Both Sides of ‘Farm versus School’ Controversy

Save the Farm members pose for a photo at a May 21 Cotter Street block party. MARYNOEL STROPE/INGLESIDE-EXCELSIOR LIGHT

Neighbors, community members and farm volunteers came together on May 21 for a rally and block party to protest Golden Bridges School’s eviction of Cotter Street’s Little City Gardens, San Francisco’s only commercial farm.

Mission Terrace Land Preservation Committee members Nancy Huff, Rick Popko and David Hooper planned the rally to draw attention to the school’s proposed construction, which they say will exacerbate flooding, create noise and traffic problems and eliminate an important, semi-public community space.

“As much as the school says they love urban farming, they’re destroying an urban farm,” Huff said. “It will not remain an open, public space. The school is not going to be ‘green’ for us.”

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Parents of Golden Bridges School students also attended in support of the school’s plan, which they say takes those concerns into consideration and will ultimately be a boon for the neighborhood and local education.

Golden Bridges School purchased the land in 2014, and currently operates out of a few different locations. Students go several days a week to part of the Cotter Street site to play and learn about farming, and Little City Gardens, which sells Community Supported Agriculture boxes, at farmer’s markets and to local restaurants, has been allowed to stay rent-free in exchange for cultivating the land.

Neighbors say they have nothing against the small school, whose mission promotes “outdoor education, community service and social justice” but feel the scale of the proposed project is too large for the one-way, residential street.

“It’s not just the development, but 250 people using water,” said neighbor Wendy Robushi.

The Mission Terrace neighborhood, built on top of the former Islais Creek, regularly floods, and the farm, a three-quarter acre elongated hourglass-shaped space surrounded by single-family homes, helps absorbs the runoff that engulfs basements and streets every winter.

According to a flyer distributed by parents, the new design does address community concerns: it will be low-noise, “have zero impact on the stormwater system,” retain 74 percent of green space and include neighborhood-scale structures.

“We will have water retention pools, orchards, a living roof,” said parent Ginny Colbert, who came out to support the school, where tuition begins at $11,000 a year, but includes a sliding scale for less-affluent families. “From my perspective, the school is going to happen. It will make the neighborhood more family-friendly.”

The school can operate on a residential street if it gets a conditional use permit, said New Mission Terrace Improvement Association president Hooper.

District 11 supervisor candidates Ahsha Safai and Kimberly Alvarenga attended the event, which blocked off Cotter Street to cars and included a taco truck, face-painting stations and food. Safai, who spoke at the rally, has supported the farm for several years.

“I think the goal of the neighbors is to keep it in the current state, possibly through a trust,” he said.

Little City Gardens founders Brooke Budner and Caitlyn Galloway moved from a smaller urban farm to the Cotter Street location, then a dog-run and blighted lot, in 2010. The following year, Mayor Ed Lee signed legislation at the farm, allowing the sale of garden produce and legalizing urban agriculture.

Freelance writer Erin Klenow has been volunteering at the farm since its inception, and is amazed at how the land has been transformed from a trash-strewn empty parcel to an orderly living farm and unique, transportative place in a crowded urban landscape.

“That’s what I want people to know about—the record of care and attention here, with someone like Caitlin’s knowledge and tenacity.”

Galloway did not attend the rally, and is not part of the Save the Farm movement, while co-founder Budner has since moved from the state.

“We just don’t have that much open space left, and there is no turning back once the space is developed, whether it’s condos or a school,” Galloway told the San Francisco Chronicle last year.

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