Over the last six years, the Stevenson Ranch Landscape Maintenance District, which is managed by the Los Angeles County Department of Public Works, has accelerated into a death spiral.
The once-picturesque center medians along Stevenson Ranch Parkway have deteriorated into a jumble of weeds, bare ground, unkempt plants, and a mishmash of dying trees. The formerly manicured slopes are now a patchwork of dirt haphazardly dotted with sun-bleached tree stumps, with no plans to replace them with vibrant new trees. Overgrown shrubs are obscuring the entrance sign monuments, making them nearly unreadable. The community is slowly devolving into a Pacoima,
How did this happen, and why has it been allowed to decline into such disarray? One only needs to look at the bureaucratic ineptitude of the DPW and the paralysis of the Stevenson Ranch Community Association Board (HOA). Each successive LMD contract that the current HOA leadership has signed with DPW has seen a steady increase in management fees and a precipitous decrease in essential landscape services. The LMD fees are paid by the Stevenson Ranch homeowners through an annual property tax assessment and have remained at a fixed amount. Add to this the convoluted and inefficient DPW, and it is the recipe for this landscape apocalypse.
The DPW “management fees” are used to pay administrators who watch supervisors, who in turn watch managers, who watch and monitor the landscape contractors. Nearly 40% of the budget is spent on bureaucrats watching each other. Redundancies and waste of the highest order! DPW lacks the skillset needed to oversee landscape design and maintenance. It is a disaster.
The county should not be in the landscaping business, especially the DPW, which is not a landscaping department. Fifth District Supervisor Kathryn Barger has acknowledged that the county should not be in the landscape business. She has expressed the wish that individual communities take over their respective LMDs countywide.
The idea of the HOA taking over management of the Stevenson Ranch LMD was presented in detail nearly six years ago. It was already pioneered at the Tesoro Del Valle community in the Santa Clarita Valley, and there is an established framework in place for other communities to follow.
The HOA board voted against taking over the LMD at that time. Since then, nearly $5 million in community LMD funds have evaporated. The funds were squandered on the so-called management fees paid to DPW with little to show for it other than the visual blight that has overtaken the community’s common areas. A horticulture genocide.
When pressed for answers, the HOA board has offered only excuses while changing meeting procedures to quell homeowner input. Instead of allowing civil discourse, board members have interrupted homeowners who question the deteriorating landscape situation. Rather than allow homeowners to continue to ask questions at the monthly meetings, the HOA board has recoiled from criticism by instituting a speaker input form required now for any questions, which must be submitted at least a day before the meeting. This change is designed so board members can line up their stories and excuses with DPW and County personnel to … muzzle homeowners’ complaints.
The 5th District SCV field office has been useless, with the staff there running for cover by throwing blame, making excuses, and not following through on requests for information. Instead, homeowners get the flitting of hair and flash of a smile from staff while being told enthusiastically that their requests will be tended to “right away.” Then weeks or months go by with no follow-through — just more wasted tax dollars.
Oh, how I rue the day Rosalind Wayman retired.
In the meantime, property values are starting to erode in Stevenson Ranch. At the November HOA meeting, one homeowner decried a $20,000 drop in her refinancing appraisal. It was directly attributed to the overgrown landscaping that is now impeding her once-impressive views.
How much further will home prices need to decline before the community becomes alarmed? Will it be too late to fix the landscaping without a massive homeowner assessment and years to bring the community appearance back to its former glory? Lord only knows.
The HOA board, DPW and the county have so far not presented any plan to the community that would instill confidence that this landscape death spiral will end anytime soon. That lack of vision is corrosive to the curb appeal of our neighborhood.
It may be time for the Stevenson Ranch community to start looking at annexation into the city of Santa Clarita as a solution. One only needs to view the many simple and elegantly landscaped center medians and slopes throughout the city to realize the possibilities. Annexation may be the best way to wrest management of the medians and slopes from the disastrous DPW and HOA death grip.
The time for action is now. Stevenson Ranch homeowners need to start attending the monthly HOA meetings, which occur on the third Tuesday of the month. Thanks to the pandemic, this is much easier now since the meetings are being conducted virtually via video conferencing. The more homeowner participation, the faster this landscaping nightmare might get turned around.
Contact the Stevenson Ranch community management company, FirstService Residential, on how to participate. The next meeting is on March 16.
Dave Bossert is a long-time community volunteer who serves on several boards. His commentaries represent his own opinions and not necessarily the views of any organizations he is affiliated with or those of The Signal.