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San Francisco Supervisors Consider Tax Breaks To Seed Urban Garden Growth

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Mark-Kelly_BIO-HEAD Mark Kelly
Mark Kelly joined KPIX 5 as a reporter in August 2013. Before moving...
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SAN FRANCISCO (KPIX) — In a city as densely-packed with buildings as San Francisco, you’d presume that going back-to-the-land must involve a long trip out of town — unless you live near one of the all-too-rare urban gardens in the city.

Dr. Aaron Roland planted a public garden about seven years ago in Potrero Hill and he hopes more property owners will do the same.

“It’s not everywhere but there’s a lot of vacant lots around and I’m just shocked how much sits behind fences with nothing happening to it,” Dr. Roland said.

Until now, the city has given few incentives to would-be urban garden developers. But a new proposal before the Board of Supervisors would create what’s called an Urban Agriculture Incentive Zone for property owners willing to convert their empty lots to urban gardens.

If the law is passed, participating property owners would see a significant cut in their property tax. To qualify, their gardens must be open and accessible to the public.

Of course, tax breaks mean lower revenues to the city but urban garden expert Eli Zigas, who is tracking this proposal, says it’s a worthwhile trade-off, so long as the land truly goes green.

“If the city is going to give a property tax break to someone, in exchange it needs to see urban agriculture happening,” Zigas said.

Supervisor David Chiu is sponsoring the bill and he says the city will closely monitor the gardens as they emerge.

As for the reduction in tax revenue, Chiu says, “It’s certainly a trade-off that we will consider. What my legislation allows us to do is every single property that this may be the case would need to get approval by Board of Supervisors in the future.”

And there’s another requirement for property owners: the land must remain an urban garden for at least five years after being set aside.

That would be fine with Dr. Roland in Potrero Hill. “[My property] can be a garden forever,” he told us.

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