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The commentary I wrote two weeks ago regarding the Los County Department of Public Works (DPW) ripping off the Stevenson Ranch community on contracted landscape maintenance has elicited a further response filled with excuses. After my initial commentary on this landscaping issue, DPW jumped into gear by beginning work on the mediums in Stevenson Ranch. They were also compelled to send me an email laden with the excuses that have been fed to the Stevenson Ranch Community Association (HOA) board over the last eighteen months.

The email response came from Renee Brown, a senior secretary, as a response to my commentary that I sent to the director of DPW. She pointed out that DPW “staff has been working with the Stevenson Ranch community for nearly a year to develop a re-landscaping plan to restore the medians with drought-tolerant vegetation and water-efficient irrigation in compliance with the State's restrictions.”

Okay, let’s just stop this merry-go-round right there for a moment and think about what she just said— “nearly a year to develop a re-landscaping plan.” That is the root of the problem. Any resident could point to the mediums along Pico Canyon or Valencia Blvd in Westridge, which all have drought-tolerant landscaping, and say “just do the same thing on Stevenson Ranch mediums” with any minor modifications required for the water-efficient irrigation. That should not take a year to figure out unless the DPW staff was unconscious for eleven months, which I would not rule out at this point.

The DPW response continued with; “However, due to the provisions of the Living Wage Ordinance, which was revised this year, amending this contract would trigger the new Living Wage requirements for the whole contract.  This would result in an increase of approximately 30 percent in maintenance costs over the remaining terms of the contract.” Essentially this translates into; we dragged our feet and have been ripping residents off for so long without providing the contracted service that now a new state ordinance has kicked in and we’ll be further delayed and, oh yeah, it will cost you even more. Thank you sir, may I have another—cue the audience laughter.

The rest of the email was riddled with insipid excuses that attempt to sanitize the fact that the Stevenson Ranch community continues to be swindled by DPW. The question is whether or not the current HOA board members will locate their spines and actually take the necessary action to rid the community of DPW and take over the landscape maintenance district (LMD) on its own? That should have been in motion by now as it is a process that will take time and should have begun ten months ago when this fiasco became glaringly apparent.

What is really troubling is the delusional statement that; “staff performs a variety of tasks that go beyond the collection of assessment funds and administration of the district, including field inspection and landscape maintenance contract monitoring.” I walk around Stevenson Ranch just about every morning and along the route that I take there are numerous issues including the following; exposed and bare patches on slopes; soil erosion that is creeping onto sidewalks; tree stumps not removed; and newly installed trees that are dead, like this photo shows.

The soil that is migrating onto sidewalks in places from problem slopes is troubling because if there are heavy rains this winter the integrity of the hillside may be compromised due to the missing ground cover that is designed to hold soil in place. What this tells me is that DPW staff is not properly performing “field inspection and landscape maintenance contract monitoring.” Who will be held responsible when there is a slope failure? You can be sure that DPW will try to deflect responsibility based on the crock of excuses it has already spooned out.

Another example of incompetent field inspections are the tree stumps—when a tree or bush dies from disease or neglect, cutting it off a few inches above the ground level and not removing the stump is pure incompetence. It is a horticulture failure—a visual blight— that adds to the deteriorating esthetic of a once beautiful community.  

The DPW response to my commentary shows that they are living in some alternate reality where it is okay to rip-off a community, not supply the services that have been contracted, and then whitewash anyone asking questions with flaccid excuses. This is a microcosm of government inefficiency and a glaring example of the bloated, ineptness which has permeated DPW and the county Landscape Maintenance Districts (LMD) that they have been charged with managing.

To sum up, the Stevenson Ranch community’s LMD fees, 40% of which goes to an inefficient administrative structure, has just increased labor cost by another 30%. That translates into getting even worse landscaping, if that is possible, for the fees that are being collected. I guess it’s the gardening version of Obamacare.

All the more reason to have the Stevenson Ranch LMD audited—a forensic audit.

Dave Bossert—commentary

Dave Bossert is a community volunteer who serves on a number of boards and councils. He is an award winning artist, filmmaker, and the author. His commentaries represent his own opinions and not necessarily the views of any organization he may be affiliated with or those of The SCV Beacon.