Photo by Tony Richards
By Tina Richards
Santiago Hills homeowners, unhappy with the appearance of drought tolerant landscaping that is being introduced to the community, convinced the city council to hold off on further work until the residents could weigh in on alternate plant palettes.
The city council was poised to approve a $99,000 contract with Nieves Landscaping to reproduce the meadow grass recently planted at Trails End, the north entrance into Santiago hills, on Skylark, which borders the southern side. After receiving emails, letters and hearing comments from residents at its Aug. 8 meeting, the council agreed to delay the contract until a public meeting could be scheduled to collect resident input.
The grass is browner
While the city is responsible for landscaping and maintenance of common areas within Santiago Hills, homeowners pay for it via an assessment that appears on property tax bills. Voters approved an increase to the assessment in 2015 because the original 1987 levy was no longer adequate. Community landscaping was at that time also suffering from the drought, and residents agreed that less water-hungry trees, bushes and ground cover should replace the parched plants that were dying off.
Following voter approval of the assessment increase, an eight-person committee was created to work with the city on the modified landscaping. One committee member, however, told the council that the “plans presented to us were already done, the city just wanted our feedback.”
A contingent of Santiago Hills homeowners told the council that they were “disappointed” with the new landscaping, displeased with the level of maintenance, and weren’t notified before “what looks like swamp grass” was installed. Steven Stenovich reported that sprinklers were going into the street, and that there were 33 varieties of drought tolerant grass to choose from, many of which would look better than what is in place.
Ask first, plant later
Thomas Brashears suggested that the process required more financial transparency and feedback in order to develop a consensus. The residents who attended the council meeting were unanimous in their desire to delay contract approval and further landscaping activity until a community meeting could be held.
City council members agreed. Mike Alvarez noted his surprise that residents weren’t kept informed during the planning process and agreed that they had a stake in the outcome. “We have to go back to a public meeting,” Mark Murphy stressed. “It’s frustrating for everyone.”
“Taxpayers fund this work,” Mayor Tita Smith said, and asked city staff whether the contract allowed plant substitutions.
It did, but Community Services Director Bonnie Hagan noted that it was good for only 90 days and the clock was ticking. “We probably can’t put together a public meeting and bring this back to the council before the bid expires,” she said.
“If the contract expires,” Murphy answered, “so be it. I want to err on the side of public comment.”
The council voted, 3 to 0, to continue the discussion until a public meeting could be held. Kim Nichols recused herself because she owns a business in the area. Fred Whitaker was absent.
The meeting for Santiago Hills homeowners was held Aug. 30.
Some Santiago Hills residents don’t like the drought tolerant meadow grass installed at the Trails End entrance to the community.
Santiago Hills asks for landscaping plan it can live with