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The Buck Stops Where?
updated: Oct 09, 2010, 10:00 AM

By Billy Goodnick

I'm such a wimp. In my pretend world I'm a tough-as-Sally-Hanson's nails investigative reporter, holding the heinous, Earth-defiling villains and water wasters under the searing white heat of my inquisition (which nobody expects). I slash with my rapier-like pen (actually, my 5-year-old, pre-Intel PowerBook G4 laptop keyboard, but that lacks poetic umph), striking fear and shame in their hearts. I'm the genetic mutation of Woodward, Bernstein, Stevie Segal and Godzilla.

My fantasy is broken when the phone rings. The guy in charge of facilities maintenance for a major Santa Barbara institution is just getting around to returning my call.

Sweet! I can lure him in, spring the trap and feel him squirm on the other end of the phone. Now where are my questions? I had them right here. Damn! I'll try to remember off the top of my head.

"Billy, so glad I caught up to you," he says cheerfully, unaware of the impending onslaught I have planned. "I'm so sorry I didn't get back to you last week. I was up to my eyebrows in meltdowns and intended to call. Then I ran across your message and called you right away. What can I do for you, buddy?"

Buddy? The guy sounds friendly, sincere. "Too bad Jack. Justice must be served and punishment meted out. I'm on a deadline for Edhat and I need answers!" No, I didn't actually say that, but I sure was thinking it, in a gruff, cigar-chomping tone.

In my most withering voice, I was going to say, "Are you aware that at 7:20 last Saturday morning, someone from your staff was hosing down the paving and public sidewalks around your building, in flagrant defiance of City of Santa Barbara regulations?"

It was true. A week before, I was on an early morning Biff the Wonder Spaniel walk and spotted some guy, white iPod buds firmly embedded, hosing every square inch of the walkways, steps and terraces of a major quasi-public cultural institution. My blood pressure spiked, my internal dialog screamed, but this was my quiet time with the pooch, so I kept on keepin' on. Ten minutes later on the return leg of our sojourn, dark roast decaf in hand, there he was, still at it, torrents of water flowing down the gutter to the storm drains that lead to creeks and eventually, the beach and ocean.

This time I was going to act. I sauntered over to the perp (I was offered a guest spot on Sauntering With The Stars) and in a very civil tone, asked if he knew that it was illegal to hose off sidewalks?

(I'm sure you already know where this is going: Chapter 14.23 Water Efficient Landscape and Reclaimed Water Use Regulation, section 14.04.080 Waste, which states: "Waste" means any excessive, unnecessary or unwarranted use of water, including but not limited to any use which causes unnecessary runoff beyond the boundaries of any property as served by its meter and any failure to repair as soon as reasonably possible any leak or rupture in any water pipes, faucets, valves, plumbing fixtures or other water service appliances. (Ord. 4558, 1989; Ord. 2931 §2(part), 1963; prior Code §44.1(part).) )

It seemed to me that washing down a few acres of dusty concrete and gum wrappers just to avoid picking up a broom, fell in the realm of "waste."

"Well, it's also illegal for some homeless guy to crap around the building," he huffed.

Good point. So let's see if I've got this scenario straight. Einstein, here, was removing human fecal waste by hosing it across public sidewalks, into the street, and out to sea. Problem solved!

As you've already guessed, we've moved up two rungs in the City ordinance, to Chapter 16.15 - Urban Pollution Controls, Non-point Source Discharge Restrictions, Section 16.15.10 Water Pollution Prohibited. Pollution is defined, therein, as including fertilizer, pesticides, animal feces, human feces, lubricants/waste oil, food service, swimming pools, and spas, among others.

Now we're getting into full-on, bio-hazardous pollution.

[Back to the phone call…]

I recounted to Mr. Facility Manager what I had witnessed and he sounded sincerely concerned. I said that when I told the hoser guy that his employer could get in a lot of trouble, the smartass replied, "I don't really care," and went back to squirting a few leaves into the street.

I really wanted to be pissed off, pound the phone on the table and make a few vituperative threats, but I buckled. I guess my folks raised me well, because I just don't like to make people uncomfortable. In my fantasies, I'm Sylvester Stallone with a raging paper cut; Winnie the Pooh when it's one on one.

I ended up telling him he needed to be more vigilant or the reputation of an important institution would be tarnished. I told him about the City of Santa Barbara's rebate program for purchasing a water broom (they use miniscule amounts of water plus the abrasiveness of the bristles to unstick stubborn stuff from the concrete), and that someone in the Creeks Division could direct him to materials that keep pollutants from reaching the storm drains.

He said he'd follow up on the info and have a very clear talk with the maintenance guy about what's expected. My hope is that they create a written policy and do some serious, repeated training.

So where is this blog post going?

That Innovative Resource To Improve Communication

The "Working With Your Gardener for a Healthy Garden" brochure is produced by the City of Santa Barbara and the Santa Barbara County Water Agency. On the backside it states, "Tips inside this brochure will help you work with your gardener for a sustainable landscape" and I think they're right on track. Everything is written in English and Spanish, so right off the bat, it alleviates the discomfort many home and business owners have about giving direction and knowing they've been understood.

But it's the content of the brochure that's so useful.

The section titled "What every person with a lawn or landscaped area should know" is a guide to understanding the basics of water conserving irrigation methods and hardware, explaining the best times of day to water and the need to seasonally adjust to the real-time conditions in the garden. There's a section encouraging the use of California native and Mediterranean species that are naturally adapted to local growing conditions, and another section explaining how to maintain lawns with the least amount of environmental impact, such as eliminating the use of chemical pesticides and fertilizers.

When the brochure is unfolded, you'll find a bilingual checklist to provide garden care instructions -- sort of an agreement between the two of you on how you'd like to have the garden cared for. For example, in the lawn care section, there's a box to check stating "In the fall and spring, aerate my lawn with a power aerator…. Aerating will eliminate thatch buildup and allow water to penetrate to the root zone." It's clear, educational and is a very sustainable way to approach turf maintenance.

There are thirteen instructions dealing with lawn care, general maintenance, green waste reduction, irrigation scheduling and pest management.

The coolest part is that there are two, two, two brochures in one, so you can fill out a duplicate version of each instruction, cut along the dotted line, keep one copy for yourself and give one to your gardener.

The Buck Stops
Communication is key. Whether it's a supervisor who doesn't pay attention to the work done by employees, or a landscape owner who turns a blind eye to the practices of the service-givers they employ, blaming the language barrier, the buck can't be passed. Many professional gardeners are ready, willing and able to provide more ecologically in-tune services, but it's the responsibility of the owner to let them know what's expected.

For a copy of the brochure, City residents should call 805.564.5460, and County residents 805.568.3440. If you live outside of the Santa Barbara area, bug somebody to adopt this great idea and make it happen.


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