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Here’s where an ecological farm could be coming to Pomona

United Voices of Pomona for Environmental Justice says its wants to build it calls an Ecological and Community Oriented Farm and Resource Management project on a 21,000-square-foot unused parcel on South Buena Vista Avenue, between 11 Street and Grand Avenue, Pomona, California. (Liset Marquez/SCNG)

This article was first published  December 28, 2018 on the Inland Valley Daily Bulletin.

By  | lmarquez@scng.com

A local grassroots group received the backing of city leaders that will allow them to use city-owned property to develop Pomona’s first ECOFARM.

United Voices of Pomona for Environmental Justice says its wants to build it calls an Ecological and Community Oriented Farm and Resource Management project on a 21,000-square-foot unused parcel on South Buena Vista Avenue, between 11 Street and Grand Avenue.

Pomona resident Elinor Crescinzi said an ECOFARM aims to promote healthy, organic and affordable fruits and vegetables, as well as provide a safe open gathering space. The farm would also offer composting onsite and host programming around environmental issues.

“This model has the power to transform what is and has been a vacant lot into a vibrant, safe, and beautify space for the community,” she told council members at the Dec. 17 meeting.

A group in Pomona has approached leaders about turning a vacant lot the city owns into an urban farm for the community. (Liset Marquez/parevalo)

Several members of United Voices spoke during public comments portion of the Dec. 3 council, asking for assistance. Mayor Tim Sandoval directed staff to bring back a report at the Dec. 17 meeting with possible solutions.

According to a subsequent staff report, Pomona has owned the parcel since 1962, and it might have been acquired to “create a street that was never constructed.”

Kirk Pelser, deputy city manager, said by offering a license agreement, it gives Pomona more leeway to cancel the contract it if any issues arise with the farm.

If Pomona had chosen to lease the land to United Voices, it would have had to first make the excess property available to various entities The parcel is designated to allow development of multifamily homes, and the current fair market value for the lot is $367,500, or about $17 per square foot, the staff report stated.

Since urban farming is a new concept in Pomona, the city would have to create codes and policies to “help guide this new use with appropriate consideration of neighborhood compatibility and operational details.” the staff report stated.

For almost an hour, the council heard from residents and members of United Voices about the importance of developing the land.

Linda Hinojos said United Voices started as a grassroots effort to oppose Valley Vista Services’ proposal to open the Pomona Valley Transfer Station. United Voices raised concerns about health and environmental issues that could result from the natural gas fueling station and unsuccessfully sued the city to stop the development.

Although the dialogue with the council has been very contentious at times, Benjamin Wood noted United Voices members decided about four years ago they also wanted to be active in making positive changes in Pomona.

That eventually led to United Voices being awarded a $50,000 grant from the state’s environmental protection agency to build the unique farm, Hinojos said. The Center for Community Action and Environmental Justice has agreed to add it in its insurance to cover any liability issues.

“Food justice projects like the ECOFARM are critical because they help to ensure residents have the opportunities to consume fresh, healthy, organic food,” said Cal Poly Pomona Professor Teresa Bidart, who supports the farm. “It presents a unique opportunity to nourish community empowerment within Pomona while simultaneously give some residents the opportunity to produce their own fruits and vegetables.”

For Tamiko Chacon, who lives right next to the vacant lot, the purposed farm offers the chance to create a vibrant community. Chacon is the pastor of Justice Ministries for Pomona Purpose Church, but she and her husband are raising two young boys in the neighborhood where 8-year-old Jonah Hwang was shot and killed in February 2017.

“It would be giant step to bring healing into the neighborhood and a fitting way to honor Jonah,” she said, referring to the farm. “To create a space where children can learn about farming and where friendship will replace fear, where families can harvest healthy food.”

Councilman Rubio Gonzalez and Sandoval both suggested the the group be allowed to license the property for a $1 year. Gonzalez said he would also to see the agreement offer the group the opportunity to purchase the land after three years.28

Councilman Robert Torres would like Pomona to establish a process for other organizers to develop farms, he said, adding he’d like to see similar projects in all six districts.

Pelser said he will bring back a license agreement for the council to approve by the second meeting in January.

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