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Preserving Rossmoor’s Landscape

By Sam Richards

Staff writer


Friday, March 8 (9:30 a.m.): Patricia Power insists that she’s only looking to get First Mutual’s landscaping looking as it should – and hoping to save her neighbors a few dollars, and landscaping crews some time, as well.

Since December, Power has been landscape chairperson for First Mutual – a job she is taking seriously. Power has focused some of her attention on what she calls “resident-initiated damage” to the landscaping in the Mutual’s common areas. This damage, she said, is common, and is usually inflicted on landscaping that the Mutual Operations Department (MOD) is supposed to take care of, and is paid for, by the Mutual.

John Tawaststjerna, GRF’s landscape manager, is supportive of Power’s efforts, and those of any Rossmoor resident, to let the professionals do the gardening – at least beyond the front and back porch – without interference.

“We want to educate people who think that what they’re doing isn’t a big deal,” Tawaststjerna said. “What people do definitely affects our crews on the ground.”

This isn’t a problem exclusive to First Mutual, he added. It happens all over Rossmoor.

In First Mutual, Power said, resident-initiated damages take many forms. A recent walk through one small part of Rossmoor’s oldest and largest Mutual showed some hedges trimmed haphazardly, some even pruned to within an inch of their lives.

Motivations for these actions vary, Power said – anything from improving a view, to taking away hiding places for coyotes and other animals, to asking that a different species of plant be installed there instead.

There also are what Power calls “rogue gardens,” established in common areas where professional companies – in First Mutual, it’s BrightView, under the direction of MOD – are supposed to be the only ones doing the gardening. Even though some “rogue gardens” and other illicit vegetation stands may be well-maintained and even attractive, others have outlived their once-conscientious overseers, or at least those overseers’ interest or ability to tend them. Some have become overgrown thickets.

“They can be eyesores, and that isn’t fair to the other residents,” Power said.

Section 13.0 of First Mutual’s policy manual states that, starting in July 2002, “gardening,” as such, in the Mutual is limited to back porches, patios and other areas immediately adjacent to residences. Gardens in common areas haven’t been allowed since then, but they’ve never really gone away.

“This is a problem that’s been going on for years and years,” Power said. “We have a lot of people who are hesitant to let go of their yards, and their gardening. People like to garden.”

This kind of gardening, though, can deplete a Mutual’s budget, with plant removal or replacement, and sometimes with excess water use, Power said. She points to a shrub that has illicitly been trimmed down almost to the ground.

“It’s going to cost (First Mutual) $1,500 to replace these bushes,” she said. “And these add up … it’s not an insignificant problem.”

Residents are not supposed to interfere with the work of crews from landscaping companies or tree-removal crews, Tawaststjerna said. It takes time away from their work, he said, and sometimes results in non-conforming (and thus non-approved) stands of plants being left alone.

There’s a safety aspect, too, Power said. Some residents want bushes and other plants close to windows or other parts of buildings, which can present a fire hazard.

First Mutual President Mary England supports Power’s efforts to encourage more resident adherence to the Mutual’s landscape policy.

“Mutual landscape representatives and Mutual board directors have a duty to remind members and residents that the landscaped areas are Mutual common areas, managed by the Mutual, for all to enjoy,” England said. “The common areas are maintained for the benefit of all members, not for use as a private area.”

Power said she understands that not all residents can get to the Garden Club plots or get space there to do their own gardening work. She is looking at the possibility of creating a few small gardens in what are now community spaces, but nothing has happened on that front yet.

Tawaststjerna stressed that it isn’t MOD’s job to police landscaping violations – that falls on the Mutuals. Anyone with a specific need or request related to landscaping, he said, is urged to call the MOD Work Order Desk at 1-925-988-7650.

For her part, Power said she isn’t going to be an enforcer, either, but rather more of a messenger for First Mutual residents. It’s fine if residents of other Mutuals take notice, too, she said.

“We’re not going to go and punish people,” Power said. “We’re going to try to make their lives better.”w