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Laid Off: The big career opportunity
updated: May 11, 2009, 12:00 AM

Thoughts From the Garden of Ed

LAID OFF: The big career opportunity
by Billy Goodnick


This is a story of hope. It's a story of glasses half-full, and then some.

I usually don't write about my life here - I rant and spew about the ugly, praise the beautiful, and muse about the "museable" stuff. Silvia Uribe, Nicole Freire and the other Edhat writers muse a lot better than I do. However, tectonic events compel me to take a different tack.

It's been about two months since I found out I'm being laid off from my job with the City of Santa Barbara. I've been the landscape architect in the Parks and Recreation Department since 1987. Given the state of the economy and the lack of tourism and general spending here, the city needs to make up about $10 million next year. No, I don't even make half that much, but every little bit helps and I've been selected to help with the balancing act.

It came as a bit of a surprise, but it shouldn't have. Though my title is Landscape Architect, I don't do much in-house design - I'm more of a capital project manager, helping to figure out the scope of improvement projects, hiring consultants, getting through the red tape, and making sure the projects are properly executed.

The reason I'm leaving - then coming right back as a part-time hourly employee to finish up a few projects - is that there just ain't enough capital to keep a capital project manager on the payroll.

I have a lot to be proud of in the time I've been around. There's nothing I can take full credit for - everything we do involves a lot of people and decisions, the creative talents of hired design consultants, plus input from the City's very talented Public Works engineers. That said, I can see my hand and gray matter in a lot of projects that have come to pass in the two decades I've been involved.

The short-list includes over a dozen new playgrounds, Kids World, the expansion of Chase Palm Park in '98, Skater's Point (love it or hate it, it's great for the kids), the recently completed expansion of Bohnett Park (you HAVE to see it at the corner of San Andres & W. Victoria - bookmark this page and go NOW), the Bird Refuge, changes at Alice Keck Park Memorial Gardens, the new bridge at Oak Park and my little known favorite, Parque de los Ninos on the lower Westside.

But I didn't want this column to be about the past, because I'm stunned and awed by what the future appears to hold. The day after I heard I was shuffling off to Buffalo, doors began to open. I don't keep a journal so this isn't going to be in any particular order.

Let's start with this past Wednesday, when I clicked on the "Publish and Post" button at my new blog at Fine Gardening Magazine (Taunton Press). It appears that the time I thought I was wasting on Twitter paid a huge dividend. Kate Frank, FG's web editor, hangs out online with the same gardeners and hortijunkies that I do. She tracked me down and asked if I'd like to post a guest blog or two at their site. "Hmmm," I pondered, "write for a national audience at one of the country's most influential gardening magazines. I'll have to get back to you - in a nanosecond)." Long story short, we expanded the idea to my own "branded" page. It's called "Sustainable Landscaping: Cool Green Gardens by Billy Goodnick" and this week was the launch.

There's not a lot of money involved but my recent dream of becoming the Dave Barry of horticulture just took a huge leap forward. Please come visit me when you're done reading this tidbit at Edhat.

Meanwhile, I ran into Mike Gonella, chair of the Environmental Horticulture Department at City College at a recent event. I had just gotten the heave ho news and Mike, who's only been at SBCC for a year, was bemoaning the fact that there wasn't anyone teaching the department's landscape design course. Another long story shortened: one of my other dreams clicked into place and I'll be filling the heads of students with my twisted view of the world of landscape design starting in the fall. I'll keep teaching my adult education class for the general public, but this is an opportunity to reach students who will go forth into the profession I hold so dear.

On the darker side, Santa Barbara Homeowner, the local magazine I've contributed to for the past year, has closed its doors due to big drops in advertising revenue. I guess a number of business don't realize that the best way to increase business is by getting the word out through advertising. James Kappen, the publisher, is a smart, talented young dude who I'm sure will land on his feet. I'll miss the opportunity to write "real" articles - no offense Ed, but this feature isn't getting me on the Pulitzer committee's short list.

One last tidbit that helped fill the glass this week. Owen Delll and I have a local sustainable landscaping TV show called, Garden Wise Guys. With every ounce of humility we can muster, we think we deserve a national audience for our message and shenanigans. Only now, it seems there are a few other people out there who agree. With the help of a couple of Hollywood pros we met, we churned out a four minute "sizzle reel", or demo, that looks like it's getting some traction with a distribution company. They want to shop the concept around to a few cable networks. Wouldn't THAT be sweet. Maybe we can get sponsored by Edhat.com?

Some of these opportunities come with a paycheck and that keeps my blood pressure where it needs to be. Others have the delightful sound of latches being released and doors creaking open a crack. I've got my design coaching work and intend to give that a little push once my June 30 retirement date rolls around. According to the Countdown Lite app on my iPhone, I'll be out the door in two months, ten hours, ten minutes and forty-four seconds, but who's counting?

The retirement party will be low key. A few of us will be tossing back an Irish whiskey or two at Dargan's, time and date to be determined. If you'd like to be join in the festivities, call me at the Parks and Recreation Dept..

Despite the uncertainty of my current state of affairs, my dear wife, Lin (former Edhat March Madness champ!!!) and son, Ben love me, my dog thinks I'm cool and things are looking rosy. I'm in a better shape than a lot of poor souls who have been devastated by the economic woes. I'm counting my blessings.

The glass isn't just half full - I have to stop by the local 7-11 for one of those Big Gulp tumblers soon.

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Billy Goodnick is a nice guy who knows a lot about plants and garden stuff.


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