Regardless of your religious persuasion, the biblical phrase “whatsoever ye shall ask…ye shall receive” is familiar to most. I mention this because, in my last commentary, I asked for an actual landscaping plan for the Stevenson Ranch community. My prayers were miraculously answered at the April HOA meeting, in which it was announced that a landscaping plan has materialized.
I am happy that my prayers were answered, but I am skeptical. Since the landscaping in the community continues to deteriorate, I still question the current maintenance process. Although the springtime bloom is beautiful, it is also masking the underlying issues woven through the slopes and common areas of our neighborhoods.
At the April HOA meeting, the board continued its reactionary stance to homeowner questions regarding the dreadful landscaping. So much so that the word gaslighting comes to mind.
This gaslighting was evident in the denial of issues pointed out, including an unlevel sign frame and shrubs that have not been cut back for safety concerns along Stevenson Ranch Parkway. And it was the first time the term “biodiversity” was hurled into the landscaping conversation.
Yes, the latest explanation for the hodgepodge of plants along the center medians on Stevenson Ranch Parkway is biodiverse planting. There is nothing wrong with landscaping the community with a diverse palette of plants, provided that knowledgeable participants design it.
That has not been the case. The Los Angeles County Department of Public Works lacks that design expertise. DPW should no longer be involved with the landscape maintenance districts based on the current state of the community landscaping.
The landscaping has been spiraling down into disarray since the DPW took over the LMDs from L.A. County Parks and Recreation. This new landscaping plan being presented by DPW at the May HOA meeting must show an actual schedule of how the disastrous landscaping conditions will be rehabilitated over the short and long term.
The time has come for the HOA board to step up and deal with this landscaping problem decisively. Not by gaslighting the homeowners or making excuses. It does not mean continuing to kick the landscaping “can” down the road.
It means that this situation has reached a critical point, and before any new contract is signed, a thorough feasibility study of the HOA taking over the LMD must be done immediately and shared with homeowners.
Whether the HOA ultimately takes over the LMD or not, the homeowners deserve to know the full ramifications and implications of doing so. The HOA board just saying they are “looking at all options” doesn’t cut it. Homeowners must have the opportunity to comment and ask questions as part of an open and transparent process.
The Stevenson Ranch HOA board members serve the homeowners and are not an autocratic group. Using executive sessions, private conversations and chummy relationships built up over years of being entrenched on the board needs to stop.
Three of the five board members are neighbors living on the same street in the community. Add to this that board member spouses have been put onto various committees, which has created an incestuous environment at the HOA.
That kind of board has and is hurting the community, as evidenced by the state of the landscaping.
That incestuous nature has created a board that is not racially diverse and is not representative of all areas across the larger community association. This condition has stifled discourse and alternative points of view on topics of concern to all homeowners. Spirited collegial conversation allows for greater exploration of possibilities and solutions.
This situation is nothing new. HOA boards are well-known for these problems, and anyone who lives within an HOA has likely experienced the pitfalls inherent when a small group commandeers the association board. That has happened in Stevenson Ranch, with many board members serving not just for years but for decades together and effectively maintaining a stranglehold on the board.
That has shut down any meaningful participation by other homeowners who are outside that clique.
In April, only about 10 homeowners attended the HOA meeting, with several questioning the landscaping. The patronizing responses by the board president masterfully deflected criticism of the landscaping. Treating homeowners that way has left many frustrated, fed-up and not bothering to attend future meetings.
I would recommend that Stevenson Ranch homeowners attend the Tuesday, May 18, HOA meetings via video conferencing to see the proposed landscaping plan for the community.
That will give any homeowner interested an overview of the landscaping, the challenges and allow for at least an attempt at thoughtful conversation.
Contact the Stevenson Ranch community management company, FirstService Residential, on how to participate.
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.