It started with a “For Sale” sign, prominently displayed to traffic whizzing up and down Sacramento Street in South Berkeley. Next came a formidable black fence surrounding a relatively small pizza-slice of land smack in front of Spiral Gardens, a popular nonprofit community garden project at the corner of Sacramento and Oregon streets. The fence blocks the garden’s main entrance.
Then, mounting curiosity and questions. What’s going on at Spiral Gardens, people asked Berkeleyside, the city, the garden staff, each other.
“We’re trying to get the word out that Spiral Gardens isn’t for sale. This isn’t what’s happening,” said Daniel Miller, executive director of the 20-year-old organization that grows and sells plants and produce and conducts educational activities on a lot that was once part of a Santa Fe railway line.
“While the placement of the For Sale sign gives a general impression that Spiral Gardens is for sale, the parcel in question, 2844 Sacramento, is a privately owned little triangle in front of our front gate, where the produce stand has happened for the past ten years,” Miller said.
Indeed, the 620-square-ft. lot is listed by Marvin Gardens Real Estate with an asking price of $150,000. The plot isn’t connected to water, sewage, or utilities, according to the listing.
We reached out several times for more information to the listed Realtor, Devin Ratoosh, who didn’t respond.
A small lot for sale next to a community garden isn’t news. But the juxtaposition of this property with the garden is attracting attention for a couple of reasons, including its size — building any kind of habitable dwelling would be challenging — and its location, in front of Spiral’s front gate and the site of its produce stand.
“Today, Sunday, things got more serious when a tall, spiked metal fence set in cement was erected around the entire perimeter of this small triangle of land,” Jenny Strauss, a Spiral neighbor, wrote Berkeleyside on Dec. 21. “The fence completely blocks the garden entrance . . . It’s both shocking and bizarre.”
Ever since the For Sale sign went up a few weeks ago, Miller said he’s getting about 20 inquires a day asking if the garden or its land are for sale.
Miller said that, since the garden was established at its current site in 2004, he’s had informal agreements with various owners of 2844 Sacramento allowing Spiral to spill over onto the property. He’s tracked ownership of the small lot through a couple of sales, communicating with all new owners, he said.
The garden program itself is located on city-owned land, and has a renewable land-use agreement and license with the city.
“There’s a long story around 2844, but in short we’ve had full permission from the previous owners to use it. . . ,” Miller said, adding that the current owner, who he said bought the land in summer for $27,000 is the first one to fence the property and erect “no trespassing” signs.
He said he didn’t know the full name of the owner. Berkeleyside is looking into this and will add comment from the owner if we get it.
The words “Spiral Garden Excluded” were added to the For Sale sign, at Miller’s urging.
Miller said Spiral, which is closed on a winter break until January, will regroup if necessary, and move its front entrance and produce stand. There are stretches on Sacramento not abutted by the private parcel.
“When we start open hours again in mid-January, we’re going to have to spend time and money putting in a new front gate and moving our sign. Hopefully, we can figure out a clever way to keep the produce stand fronting Sacramento St in our redesign,” he said.
“I keep hoping this will all blow over somehow, before we have to do all that, because, of course, we have more than enough to do already. In the meantime, we have to spend a lot of time explaining to all our alarmed supporters that Spiral Gardens is definitely not for sale.”
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