City discovers going green drives landscaping cost way up

Following a disappointing report, the Claremont City Council approved a contract extension with CLS Landscape Management for park maintenance programs at the February 23 council meeting.

The extension comes on the heels of the city putting out requests for local landscape companies using new parameters—no chemicals, no leaf blowers and no weeds and an increase of mulch use in planters—that was met with a tepid response. Interim Community Services Director Pat Malloy was on hand to present the item to council.

The current deal with CLS is based on limited use of chemicals, the use of battery or electric blowers and varying degrees of weed tolerance, according to Mr. Malloy. That contract, which cost the city $657,068 annually, was set to expire on April 24.

According to Mr. Malloy, CLS was the only company that sent a bid on the new stipulations and, at $3 million a year, the bid was a far cry from the current maintenance cost. No other company wanted to touch the city’s new parameters, citing the need for chemicals to destroy weeds and a lack of staff needed to comply with the new specifications.

“Staff was stunned,” Mr. Malloy said.

In addition, the amount CLS proposed to continue working with the city, with electric leaf blowers and chemicals, amounted to $1,505,589 annually. The price of using gas blowers, which are prohibited under the Claremont Municipal Code (CMC), was $996,088 annually, according to the agenda report.

Given this new information, and a need to keep the mowers moving, the city then negotiated an extension period with CLS under the current conditions through April 27, 2017 at a ten percent increased cost of $722,775—$395,121 for park landscape management and $327,654 for citywide right-of-way landscape management.

“[The extension] will give us time to step back and reevaluate the city’s positions on our landscape maintenance,” Mr. Malloy said.

Part of the staff recommendation is a $30,000 California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) review on the city’s restriction of leaf blowers in the city. Part of the CMC mandates the prohibition of leaf blowers on city-owned properties, but the current contract and extension with CLS calls for electric and battery powered leaf-blowers.

According to Claremont Director of Community Development Brian Desatnik, the $30,000 cost of the CEQA review comes from the city’s request to look over two possible changes to the CMC—to allow gas-powered leaf blowers, the emissions of which met the standards of the South Coast Air Quality Management (AQMD) standards as well as city noise codes.

The council was disappointed with the results of the report, which showed during discussion. “It does look as if business as usual is going to cost us more,” Councilmember Joe Lyons said.

City Manager Tony Ramos told the council that the extension is needed to assess the situation.

“I think there needs to be a lot of community dialogue that needs to happen with this issue, and that’s why we need the next six months to create that dialogue for us to come back with a good presentation and recommendation to the city council on how to address this issue,” Mr. Ramos said.

“We’re really clear on the council directive on wanting to be chemical-free, leaf-blower free, everything free, but as you can see, nothing’s free,” Mr. Ramos quipped.

Councilmember Sam Pedroza floated the idea of a policy change instead of a full-blown CEQA review, to which Mr. Ramos responded that the city would be threatened with a lawsuit if the proper CEQA channels were not followed. 

The council eventually passed the staff’s recommendation, 5-0.

Later in the meeting, the city also voted to approve a new, full-time Program Manager position within Sustainable Claremont that would focus on the City of Trees’ running in both the Georgetown University Energy Prize (GUEP) and the Cool California Challenge. The person in the position will facilitate the city’s position within both competitions and work to keep Claremont in the running.

Sustainable Claremont sought up to $25,000 in one-time co-funding from the city for the position in a period lasting up to 12 months, with the organization paying for the other half of the position’s salary.

Currently, Claremont is in 20th place in the GUEP but is far ahead in first place in the Cool California Challenge. The winner of the GUEP will receive a $5 million prize, and Claremont is currently the only Southern California city in the running for the nationwide contest.

Sustainable Claremont Chair Steve Sabicer told the council the hire would play a vital role in securing Claremont’s position in the GUEP.

Council voted, 4-1, to provide $25,000 for staffing the full-time program manager position with Sustainable Claremont. Councilmember Opanyi Nasiali was the only dissenter. He originally sought a motion to pay the city’s half of the salary with an interest-free loan payable within five years.

The next city council meeting will take place on March 8.

—Matthew Bramlett


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