On San Vicente Boulevard, the grass on the median strip is approaching waist height. It hasn’t been cut since July 1, when the new fiscal year began, and no city agency is charged with maintaining it.
“It looks terrible,” said Steve Kramer, president of the Miracle Mile Chamber of Commerce. “The failure to maintain the median at all reflects badly on our whole area, residential and commercial. Personally, the situation on San Vicente just makes me sad. That area has had such an incredible revitalization over the past ten years.”
Throughout most of the geographic area of Los Angeles, including the San Fernando Valley, West Los Angeles, and South Los Angeles, private contractors continue to maintain medians. However, up until this year, city staff maintained one “quadrant” of the city.
Last year, 23 employees of the City of Los Angeles Urban Forestry Division maintained medians in the north-central quadrant, which encompasses the downtown, mid-city, and Hollywood areas. As with so many other city departments, however, the Urban Forestry Division was downsized in the 2010-2011 budget, and all 23 positions were eliminated, leaving no one to maintain the medians.
As the grass has crept higher and higher, city council district offices have scrambled to come up with funds to maintain the medians. Council President Eric Garcetti, 13th District, agreed to provide funds left over from Community Development Block Grants his district received from the federal government to cover 60 percent of the cost of maintaining medians in all seven of the affected council districts.
“Without proper maintenance, these medians can become overgrown, litter-strewn eyesores that can drag down an entire neighborhood,” Garcetti said. “In these tough times, we must work hard to find solutions, which is why we made it a priority to closely scrutinize our stimulus dollars. This scrutiny paid off.”
To maintain the medians not covered by Garcetti’s stimulus funds, other city councilmembers are enacting plans to use money from council office discretionary funds to hire private contractors. On Tuesday, Councilmembers Tom LaBonge, 4th District, and Paul Koretz, 5th District, agreed to share the costs for maintaining the median on Highland Avenue between Wilshire Boulevard and Melrose Avenue for the next year. The costs will be covered by funds from oil pipelines that run through their districts and street furniture advertising.
“We’ve been looking at all possible funding sources, so that we could quickly renew maintenance of our median islands, since such city service was suddenly halted as of July 1 due to the city’s budget crisis,” Koretz said. “The good news is that we have successfully found usable funds, and so all maintenance service in CD 5 that was discontinued as of July 1 will be restored as early as this month. It’s very important that our medians have regular landscaping maintenance, for the sake of community morale, aesthetic appeal and public safety. Now and in the long term, we certainly need to ensure that median landscaping is not endangered but is secure. As a member of the Budget Committee, I am going to do what I can to ensure that this service is adequately funded in future years, so that this kind of lapse never happens again.”
Still, it remains to be seen when maintenance of the medians will actually resume. LaBonge and Koretz have transferred almost $18,000 — the cost of maintaining the Highland Avenue median for a year — from their discretionary funds to the Bureau of Street Services, which will then hire a private contractor. No plan is yet in place for maintenance of San Vicente Boulevard, though officials from the 4th Council District Office said they hoped to have it taken care of by September.
According to Ron Lorenzen, assistant chief forester for the Urban Forestry division, the city used to hire private contractors to maintain all of the medians. However, about a decade ago, as part of a compromise with the Service Employees International Union (SEIU), the city agreed to use city employees to maintain medians in one of the four quadrants, with a rotation of the quadrant the city maintained. City staff has kept up the north-central quadrant for the past two years.
When it came time to make the 2010-2011 budget, the contracts for the other three quadrants had to be honored. But the city staff positions that kept up the north-central quadrant medians could be eliminated. As a result, median upkeep for three quadrants is being paid for out of the city’s general fund, while in the central part of the city, upkeep is coming out of council district office funds, which might otherwise be put to other uses.
This year, each council office received about $112,000 from street furniture advertising, according to the city clerk’s office. These funds must be used for transit-related projects, and have, in the past, supported streetscape projects and sidewalk improvements. The 4th Council District currently has more than $137,000 in oil pipeline funds at its disposal, much of that left over from last fiscal year, when they did not use any of the money.
Jeff Jacobberger, chair of the Mid-City West Neighborhood Council, expressed concern that funding for median upkeep was coming from the local council district offices instead of from the general fund.
“In our neighborhood, which is viewed as more prosperous, we get a lot of development, a lot of congestion, and yet no return on any of that money for things that help ameliorate the impact of that,” Jacobberger said. “At a time when the economy is not doing well, and commercial strips are not doing well, having weeds waist high on San Vicente sends a horrible message.”
Kramer, on the other hand, said he’s been happy with the councilmembers’ response to the situation.
“I’m very satisfied with the fact that they’re making a real effort, in a responsible amount of time,” Kramer said. “This hasn’t festered for six months. It’s been a few weeks. The city really doesn’t have any money that isn’t spoken for. The failure to maintain the median isn’t to punish somebody. The money really isn’t there.”
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