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Please Stop Landscaping
updated: Jan 01, 2011, 10:15 AM

By Billy Goodnick

On January 11, 2011, I will stand before Santa Barbara's City Council and respectfully ask them to stop all new landscaping projects, at least until they can get their, ahem, organic fertilizer together.

They're heading in the wrong direction.

Tip of the Iceberg

An unpredictable chain of events began a few weeks ago when I saw the disturbing new planting at a public building. It got my blood flowing, not in a happy sort of way. Initially, I was elated that I had something to rant about here at Edhat, but I ended up writing about the sorry condition of our once-glorious parks. (Read my last article) I promised to let you in on the location.

The new planting in front of the Louise Lowry Davis Center (corner of De la Vina and W. Victoria) misses the mark on several levels. The big thing is that it just doesn't make sense with this building.

The Davis Center -- a small, stately, not-very-Santa-Barbara civic building -- is now fronted by a visually noisy collection of plants that might make sense in someone's back yard, but looks absurdly out of place here -- an example of "one-of-each-itis."

Plants that will grow six-feet across are planted one-foot from their neighbors. Freestanding Pyracantha (able to eat tall buildings in a single bite) are lashed to stakes, biding their time. Sun-loving, low-water-using plants intermix with others that would be happier in the understory of a cool forest somewhere outside of Seattle. Partly funded by the Water Conservation Division as a low-water-using demonstration garden, it's nothing I want home gardeners to learn from. If it survives, the Parks crews will have their hands full, taming the chaos.

Hearts were in the right place. On the heels of the very successful butterfly garden at Alice Keck Park Memorial Gardens, a crop of Master Gardeners came looking for another project site, knocking at the Parks Division's door. "Oh boy! A free design for a building recently spiffed up, but in need of horticultural TLC," they must have thought. The weak link, as I wrote in my last article, was that there was no one at Parks to scrutinize the design. And it somehow skirted the normal design review process, which might have improved the outcome.

Okay, I'm done flinging nasty bombs. It's fixable. Unfortunately, the Davis Center is just one symptom of a malady requiring immediate action.

Do You Have To Make It Worse?

I met with Parks and Recreation Director Nancy Rapp last week, over a hot cuppa Peet's. Nancy was my boss when I worked for the city and I've always been crazy about the gal. I wasn't sure how my last article sat with her, but she said she appreciated me bringing up this topic. And though she came to Parks and Recreation without a background in plants, like me, she has a deep concern for the state of horticulture in the city's parks. And like me, she's optimistic the community can rise to the task.

It would be expedient to blame the parks crisis on economic hard times, but that lets the city's irrationality and selective blindness off the hook. True, park maintenance budgets keep withering and staff reductions cut deeper. With fewer workers and resources, standards fall. "It's the park staff's greatest heartache," Rapp says. "Right now, everyone is fighting to keep from backsliding further." And what a battle it is.

The horde of gangly Kikuyu stalks mounted on feral gophers descends on pitifully armed parks workers standing firm against the inexorable tide. They fight valiantly, but they have been on this tortured battlefield too long. Their spirits are sapped. They turn, searching the horizon for reinforcements.

A rational person would look at this horrific scene and stop it from getting any worse. But instead, newly landscaped areas keep sprouting up and more are in the way. Part of the reason is that it's virtually impossible to build anything in a park or public right-of-way without a design review board insisting it be landscaped. It doesn't matter that there aren't resources to care for it; these boards are compelled by the city charter to Martha Stewartize everything that comes their way. But it's not sustainable.

Have you seen the newish landscaping alongside the Carrillo Hill sidewalk? Weedier than Mendocino Mike's Medicinal Marijuana Mart. The new plantings along the Sunday arts and crafts show on East Cabrillo? The trampling has begun.

What the hell did they expect with thousands of pairs of sandal-clad Euro-tourist (black socks included) veering off-course every Sunday?

By the way, the new Loma Alta sidewalk plantings ain't gonna make it, and neither are the brand-spanking-new West Beach beds. Next up, the Jake Boysel Memorial Bikeway along Calle Real that's in the pipeline. Call me psychic.

Don't say we didn't warn you. Parks staff sat in design meetings and public hearings explaining in very simple language why the Cabrillo plants were doomed from the start. I was one of them. And it's not like Parks intentionally sabotage them -- City Council recently voted to reduce man-hours AND cut the budget for replacement plants.

"We Want It Both Ways"

Click over to the Sustainable Santa Barbara web page ] where the city proudly boasts its commitment to sustainability. (The green leaf in the logo tells you they're serious.) There are links about energy management; water quality, conservation and habitat restoration; land use; and waste prevention. That last one includes recycling and trash, but says nothing to say about the unconscionable waste of public monies for the design, permitting, construction, and fruitless maintenance for landscaping that doesn't stand a dandelion's chance in a tornado. That's where the selective blindness comes into play.

Change Course

First, the city should declare a moratorium on new landscaping. Stop pouring more responsibilities on city workers already drowning under their workload - it's bad for morale. Stop using volunteer designers. Change the charter so the design review boards can't demand that every bare inch of soil looks like a scenic calendar. Stop installing landscaping where you're too cheap to provide a water meter.

Second, invite, welcome, and reward volunteers. There are very encouraging signs: A recent Eastside work day organized by Looking Good Santa Barbara, brought scores of locals out to clean up Ortega Park, plant 60 young street trees, repaint park signs, and put a shine on the Eastside community vegetable garden. There are regulars who look after Alice Keck Park Memorial Garden, and the Mission Park Rose Garden. Last year the community donated 4000 hours to park and tree project.

They'd love to see more volunteers. You can pitch in by contacting the Parks division.

Finally, we need a new big picture. Let's convene a think tank. Santa Barbara has an astounding collection of world-class institutions and smart people with years of horticulture experience. Tap them for a little of their time and let's see what happens.

I'm willing to start the ball rolling - no promises how long I'll stay in the game. I'm going to the City Council meeting Tuesday, January 11, (2 pm), to see how much of this I can condense into 2-minutes as public comment. I'm going to deliver a polite wake-up, not an assault (but I might wear my red Che choners). Then, on Wednesday, January 26 (4 pm) I'll be addressing the Park and Recreation Commission in City Council Chambers, asking them to take the lead starting the conversation.

I'm hopeful something good will come of it. Come join the fun.

Comments in order of when they were received | (reverse order)

 COMMENT 132362 agree helpful negative off topic

2011-01-01 11:14 AM

Thank you Billy for leading the charge...I hope the City will use your expertise to re-think the dreadful state of landscaping in our otherwise beautiful town.


 COMMENT 132396 agree helpful negative off topic

2011-01-01 12:38 PM

Drought tolerant plants should be the only ones allowed. There's a massive variety of beautiful specimens


 COMMENT 132401 agree helpful negative off topic

2011-01-01 12:50 PM

Thank you Billy for shaking things up. I always learn something new from your column on the weekends. I hope Nancy Rapp is a reader of Edhat, she is a fantastic person and I know she listened to your issues.


 COMMENT 132421P agree helpful negative off topic

2011-01-01 02:19 PM

Rapp is fine and responsive; wish I felt similarly about Escobar....


 COMMENT 132432P agree helpful negative off topic

2011-01-01 02:57 PM

While it should be easy to agree with a lot of Billy's argument (he does know about plants after all), it's hard to take him seriously when so much of his tone is snide and combative. Comes off more like an attack on the city than helpful advice from which we'd all benefit. I suspect the city wants to do it right...perhaps a friendlier approach to lending a helping hand would result in a sooner-than-later proper fix to the problem.


 COMMENT 132434P agree helpful negative off topic

2011-01-01 03:10 PM

@132432P...a bit of the pot calling the kettle black? I like the tough love approach myself.


 COMMENT 132436 agree helpful negative off topic

2011-01-01 03:16 PM

I agree with 132432. Unless one wants to be seen in the same light as Ken Locke, Kate Smith and Co. it would not serve Billy's message to air out in public comment. Although I generally agree with his opinions, this kind of delivery can derail the mission. That mission should be more clearly stated as concrete proposals and ideas and not as criticisms of policy or people, because everyone in SB, including Billy, has had a hand in where we are now with the state of landscaping in our City. Billy has great ideas and he should work in a collaborative way with all of the people responsible for designing, approving, constructing and maintaining our landscaping. The public comment approach is NOT the way t do it.
My $.02


 COMMENT 132441 agree helpful negative off topic

2011-01-01 03:27 PM

City Council doesn't meet until January 11, giving a little more time to think the strategy of this one out.


 BILLY GOODNICK agree helpful negative off topic

2011-01-01 04:09 PM

Hey, folks. Before you all worry that I'll be shooting myself in the foot with a tirade to City Council, rest assured that I lived in their world for 21 years and understand how to get my points across in a respectful and clear manner. Okay, now get back to what you were doing. And thanks to 132441 about the next Council meeting. I'll double check the date and reschedule, if needed.


 COMMENT 132452P agree helpful negative off topic

2011-01-01 04:09 PM

Seems Billy has found something he axcels at, he's able to point out things others could do better or haven't done right. Those of us affected by Billy's lack of performance while a city employee. For instance we were promised a park almost 10 years ago on San Andreas. This project was an example of Billy's lack of performance. It should be noted he did not design this park, he was just to oversee it's completion. Sure it was completed, but 10 years of camping on the city payrole and now collecting a city pension. He sounds bitter, I'm bitter. How about a change of direction. Let's have Billy help move something forward instead of trying to stop the progress of the well intentioned.


 CHERIDIANE agree helpful negative off topic

2011-01-01 05:06 PM

Thanks for caring so much about plants, sustainability, and beauty of our parks. I too am concerned about the future of our parks. Keep on keepin' on. You have my support.


 COMMENT 132457 agree helpful negative off topic

2011-01-01 05:11 PM

Billy, when you're done with the City of SB, can you come help the powers that be in Goleta? Or at least the ones that pick out plants for the center dividers.

I like agave plants too, but planting a row of them 5-6 feet tall down the center divider means, drivers have NO idea if traffic is coming at them!

I see all those bulb outs the city has, should they fill them with 5-6 foot tall agaves we will have a quite a mess on the city streets


 COMMENT 132466 agree helpful negative off topic

2011-01-01 06:27 PM

Yep, that's Billy Goodnick for you, living high off the hog and camping on the French Riviera with that fat city pension of his, not caring a whit anymore about sustainable landscaping or keeping Santa Barbara beautiful. Oh wait, he does care.

132452P, why don't you come out from behind your cowardly cloak of anonymity and document your libel. Or is it slander?


 COMMENT 132468 agree helpful negative off topic

2011-01-01 06:33 PM

Who voted for the purple and yellow flowering plants surrounded by the bright red painted curbs on the new downtown bulbouts - bilious, Billy, just plain bilious.

But apparently the grotesque color combo was distracting enough since tacky industrial reflectors needed to also be added to keep drivers blinded by this circus tent color scheme from bumping into the bulging and now bilious bulb-outs.


 COMMENT 132473 agree helpful negative off topic

2011-01-01 07:02 PM

Im curious if there is going to be a Jake Boysel bikeway on Calle Real. Does anyone know if that project got funding? or if it exists?


 COMMENT 132496 agree helpful negative off topic

2011-01-01 08:56 PM

It's not the City staff that delays projects, it's mostly politics and money. Staff does a great job (usually), but as Billy said hands get tied by the politics of the day and by direction from the City Administrator's Office.

Constructive input from SB residents like Billy, and not the extreme types as mentioned before will be very productive.


 COMMENT 132508 agree helpful negative off topic

2011-01-02 06:20 AM

You, GO!, Billy!!!

When you find yourself in a hole - stop digging. That works in horticulture and in life.

In a new reality of declining government budgets, we all know that fire, police, water & sewer are going to take an understandable priority. Parks, unfortunately are considered an amenity.

So I agree w/Billy - STOP! And any new work should be modifications of existing landscapes (and lawns!) to be water-friendly and sustainable w/in government budgets.

Mike Bush
Santa Barbaran in Singapore


 COMMENT 132512 agree helpful negative off topic

2011-01-02 07:37 AM

We have lived in Santa Barbara over 40 years and seen a lot of changes. People seem forget we are going through a serious financial crisis. We need to look around and loose the attitude and appreciate the plantings for what they are. The city is trying. We still have many fine examples of rare and beautiful flora, and a town mapped out and planned by tree and flora experts over the decades.


 GF JONES agree helpful negative off topic

2011-01-02 08:21 AM

Hurray for Billy for speaking out. It is a shame that our beautiful city doesn't have the thoughtful design and plantings in public areas that it should. There is no lack of good designers and knowlegeable garden people here whose input should be heard. Thanks, Billy, for taking the lead.


 COMMENT 132522P agree helpful negative off topic

2011-01-02 09:18 AM

I thought Goleta was doing a pretty good job with their planting. When I drive down Catherdral Oaks and see the beautiful trees they have planted, it makes me smile. Also over by Stow Park, They have recently planted some trees on Cathedral Oaks that (when they mature) are going to be spectacular in the fall. My Neighbor has those same trees, and they turn the most Beautiful colors in the fall.


 COMMENT 132524P agree helpful negative off topic

2011-01-02 09:24 AM

I will say... I am to this day trying to figure out the plum tree plantings at the Fairview On/Off ramp. Why plums? If you wanted a mini orchard there, why not Lemons, to go with Goleta's heritage?


 COMMENT 132530 agree helpful negative off topic

2011-01-02 09:36 AM

Not sure what all the backslapping is about concerning Nancy Rapp. She came to Parks and Recreation without a background in anything related to Parks and Recreation and has screwed up just about everything she has touched.


 COMMENT 132548 agree helpful negative off topic

2011-01-02 10:04 AM

Upper Bohnett Park delayed 10 years to put in high tech water treatment machine so beer drinkers in Lower Bohnett Park could pee into the Bohnett creek's now pristine water. Makes sense to me.


 COMMENT 132550 agree helpful negative off topic

2011-01-02 10:06 AM

Here I read a man voicing his concerns. This man appears to have a long background working with plants, and has a taste of local government. I think if what he sees happening with plants in his city disturbs him, and he has ideas about change, why wouldn't we encourage him to stand before our government and speak?

Billy your last paragraph kinda took the steam out of my sails a little bit though. You're wanting to "lead a charge" yet you won't hang out and continue to lead? Why not? Are you saying you're willing to lead until you find a replacement leader you approve of, to turn over the cause? Not attacking - merely curious questions.

BTW I'm frequently accused of "sounding snarky" here on Edhat, and I enjoy reading your columns. Maybe you do have a snarky sound. I don't hear it. ;-) More power to ya.


 COMMENT 132562 agree helpful negative off topic

2011-01-02 10:19 AM

Well my opinion is that when people are really passionate about something and they've been often frustrated or disappointed with others' perception of their cause, it's really kind of hard to stay snark-free.

I do see some snarkiness, but I'm more concerned with how this hurts his argument than the snark itself.

It's really hard to be diplomatic and even-keeled when you're angry about something. But people who don't share your opinion will just latch onto that as a reason to not listen, so that's my only concern with the snark.


 BILLY GOODNICK agree helpful negative off topic

2011-01-02 10:25 AM

I'm always astounded when people who don't know what they're talking about state their opinions as fact - COMMENT 132530 couldn't have it more wrong. Nancy Rapp came to P&R as an assistant director on the "recreation side" with decades of experience running recreation programs as part of UCLAs student services. She brought fresh ideas, an amazing set of people skills (both in her approach to community and employees), and a strong family connection to Santa Barbara. If every manager who currently works for the City had her dedication, enthusiasm and optimism in the face of unparalleled pressures and stress, she's the one I want in charge. So PLEASE, feel free to write about what you know, but don't smear someone when you have no idea about what you're saying.

As for Z28Racergirl's concerns - I just can't be the lead; I write for 4 publications, teach, do design consulting work, am writing a book and building a lecturing career. 'Catalyst' is the most I can afford. I think some good will come of this initial effort, but I can only do what I can do.


 COMMENT 132613 agree helpful negative off topic

2011-01-02 12:37 PM

If I'm not mistaken, the "plum" trees at the Fairview offramp area are actually ornamental plum trees. We have two in our yard. The squirrels love the little fruits but they aren't regular plums.


 COMMENT 132616 agree helpful negative off topic

2011-01-02 12:42 PM

132522P Well said. We drive along Foothill and Cathedral Oaks frequently and delight in the beautiful trees and landscaping along this route.

There are also many areas just as lovely in the SB/ Goleta area.


 COMMENT 132640 agree helpful negative off topic

2011-01-02 02:18 PM

Well Billy, it looks like you created a snake and you are going to cut the head off before it bites. Who's gonna plop a new head onto it ? How's the timing ?


 COMMENT 132652 agree helpful negative off topic

2011-01-02 02:54 PM

Billy, thanks for your response. Catalyst - I understand. However your cause truly needs a committed leader. Curious what Edhat's own DAN39 thinks of your ideas in today's column? Could he be the leader your cause needs?


 COMMENT 132706 agree helpful negative off topic

2011-01-02 04:57 PM

I read this yesterday when there were zero comments and I've been following the discussion. Nice topic, Billy.

Having worked as Grounds Supervisor at El Encanto I have admiration for Nancy Rapp and Santos Escobar. We had 8 acres to take care of. . . ., yet the city has 57 parks and 3 miles of beach to maintain. That's huge. Staff has been cut back, just as we get more than ten inches of rain. I think a weed disaster is coming.

I won't go before the council, but I might email them this.

In addition to no new projects, the city should have a temporary permit to spray weed killer. Yes, nasty ones like RoundUp. I believe it's for the best.


 COMMENT 132712 agree helpful negative off topic

2011-01-02 05:15 PM

Integrated pest management and green gardening techniques have been a disaster and worthless. No one was getting sick using the parks before all this hyper pseudo-science awareness made park maintenance so inefficient and labor intensive.

Call that whole thing a failed experiment and go back to the tried and true. You have a new city council. This is just one more new direction we want the city to go because the condition of the poor and inefficient maintenance of our parks is also making us sick.

Use some actual benchmarks and reassess park maintenance and park complaints from before and after the conversion to IPM and "green" gardening demands. Otherwise that whole green package has been a waste of time, money and public treasure.


 COMMENT 132851 agree helpful negative off topic

2011-01-03 08:47 AM

If one wants to read about the good work done by past experts, read these books. Dr Muller's son,Robert, updated his late mother's work in 2005.

Trees of Santa Barbara, by Katherine K Muller (1974

Trees of Santa Barbara by Robert N. Muller (Jan 2005)

Trees of Santa Barbara by Maunsell Van Rensselaer (Jan 1, 1940


 COMMENT 132904 agree helpful negative off topic

2011-01-03 10:38 AM

DAN----NO NO NO!!!!! You are advocating disaster: DEATH BY POISON . Poison destroys the natural cycle by killing all useful insect life, producing a dead garden. Before people with ideas like you came along weeds grew naturally in parks and beside the roads. And many of the "weeds" were delightful wild flowers.


 GREENTOO agree helpful negative off topic

2011-01-03 12:11 PM

Billy, Would you like back-up at the Council mtg.?
Just a thought. I agree with your idea of stopping all new civic landscaping projects for the time being. With no provision for ongoing maintenance it is beyond foolish for Parks to take on more work. The City Parks and landscapes that are neglected now should be a priority. When those areas are well taken care of then then, and only then, Parks should consider taking on a new site. (I was right about Louise Lowry Davis stopping you in front of the pink Vespa wasn't I?)


 COMMENT 132925P agree helpful negative off topic

2011-01-03 12:41 PM

To do sustainable landscapes right they need to be designed for that sort of maintenance, irrigation, plant selection, etc.. None of the pre 2000 parks were designed for sustainability. Abruptly enforcing sustainable landscape concepts on old designs and plant scemes is folly. We are suffering the consequences. Billly has good ideas and experience which helps him see what's possible.


 COMMENT 132968 agree helpful negative off topic

2011-01-03 03:16 PM

904, I've been working as a gardener in SB for 20 years. I'm talking about herbicides, not pesticides, which I would agree with you do kill the balance of life. Roundup only kills the plants it touches. But that's the thing, it kills any plant it touches.


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