'I'm not a vegetarian, and I don't want to live in the College Area," says Rodney Johnson, explaining why he is not interested in joining either of two local communes. Johnson would rather form his own commune and has begun the process online as organizer for the San Diego Intentional Communities Meetup Group. This group is one of nearly 200,000 on meetup.com, a website where people can find like-minded individuals in their hometowns and arrange to meet in person. Johnson refers to his ideal living situation as an "intentional community" rather than a commune. He is not the first. According to the intentional communities website ic.org, there are over 900 such communities in the United States -- 127 in California and at least 2 in San Diego County.
Of the 32 members of Johnson's online group, 17 are inactive, meaning they have not logged on to the group's site in over three months. The next discussion meeting for those interested in forming intentional communities in San Diego will take place at the Living Room Coffeehouse in Hillcrest on Saturday, April 9.
The College Area commune to which Johnson refers is called the Enchanted Garden and was formed by Leslie Goldman, private owner of the modest residence. Housemates of Enchanted Garden enjoy "garden parties" twice a month and are encouraged to grow their own food. "In the front yard alone we have a large tropical fruit tree called rose apple," says Goldman, as well as a Meyer lemon tree, two navel orange trees, and a banana tree. "I have different herbs that are also edible, such as chocolate-scented peppermint and lemon balm, which is soothing for the hurting heart. I have other fragrant herbs that feed the senses more than the tummy."
To fill a vacancy a roommate must sign a contract agreeing to respect the "quiet hours" (9 p.m. to noon and 1 p.m. to 3 p.m. each day) and attend a weekly meeting. Rent is $430 a month if the resident is willing to contribute 12 hours of work a month; the type of work is not specified, though one must assume it has to do with the yard. Rent is $550 a month if one would rather skip the extra tasks, but don't expect to get out of "EDU" (everyday upkeep).
Goldman admits, "Not all people are suited for this lifestyle." At one point an Enchanted Garden resident caused a conflict by eating sausages. Not all residents are vegetarian, but they maintain a vegetarian kitchen. To resolve the issue, the housemate began preparing his meat on a George Foreman grill. The main conflicts, according to Goldman, center on "living together and keeping clean." Some have moved out because they didn't want to be told what to do. "I have gotten into conflicts over the garden," says Goldman. "All people see gardening differently. I prefer a wild look...sometimes I just have to sit on my feelings when a plant I loved was mistakenly uprooted. Rather a dead plant than a hurt person."
In the hills of Cardiff-by-the-Sea lies a nonsmoking vegetarian community in a giant house complete with a year-round edible garden, Jacuzzi, exercise equipment, and sauna. Temporary stays, or "rejuvenation programs," are offered with supervision for those who wish to learn more about "community making" and "the benefits of whole, raw, living food." It is forbidden to smoke, drink alcohol, or prepare any meat in the house. Rent is from $550 to $750 per month.
According to my source, who declined to be identified, at this commune, "Issues are resolved by confrontation, then benevolent dictatorship, and eviction. We have found that many community seekers are just looking for a free ride and do not want to pay their way. It is very, very rare for those who contact us through our website to be acceptable for residency. We run the community as a business and make business decisions on how residents are treated and how to deal with those who do not keep their word."
Unlike these two communities, Johnson's will not have a strict regimen. What are some basic tenets? Johnson responds, "To meet and know each other before we share a home. You find the people you want to live with first, and then you move in. Put agreements down on paper -- a mission statement, a vision statement."
Johnson stresses the economical value of shared housing and hopes to find a site in an urban neighborhood for at least six to a dozen residents. "Three or four would be too small; that's not enough for a community." He has never lived in a commune before, but attempted to form one in Houston (his native city) two years ago. He was unsuccessful due to "lack of interest" and has returned to San Diego, his home of the past 20 years, to try again. Johnson, 49, is a home health care provider for the ill and elderly.
"I have done a lot of research on existing communities and noticed that most of them were somewhat narrow in their scope," Johnson says. "Some are religious, some are female only, some are no children. I have worked with children for many years. I enjoy children." Johnson, who has no children of his own, adds that he wishes for a community that is accepting of all ages, religions, and lifestyles.
One female member of Johnson's intentional communities group is a bisexual mother who participates in many other Meetup groups, including Alternative Parent, Camping, Ecotourism, Homebirth, Pagan Parenting, Pantheism, and many others. One man also belongs to Polyamory and Pagan groups. Another man shares membership with Gay Runners Under 30 and Scrabble groups. Remaining members range from those who are gung-ho on the idea of extreme tolerance in an intentional community to those who are simply looking for an affordable place to live while transitioning to a more permanent residence. The San Diego Intentional Communities Meeting Group has not yet looked at any potential sites for its new home. -- Barbarella
San Diego Intentional Communities Meeting
Saturday, April 9
Living Room Coffeehouse
1417 University Avenue
Info: 619-261-2182 or http://intentionalcomm.meetup.com/2/