When drafting his plans for the Rancho Santa Margarita area in the early 1980s, Master Planner Richard Reese envisioned a community that would showcase both Mediterranean design and natural beauty. The Association’s parks, greenbelts, medians, and parkways span more than three hundred sixteen (316) acres; much of which is original plant material. With plants ranging from dainty carpet roses to stately sycamore trees, SAMLARC’s plant palette is designed to create a sense of timelessness.
Professional landscape service providers are critical to maintaining the appearance and health of SAMLARC’s landscape. However, recent industry strains have disrupted the efficiency and quality of landscape services. Labor shortages, as well as wage increase and compaction, have impacted the quality of service provided to SAMLARC’s landscape needs.
In 2000, SAMLARC’s landscape service providers retained a crew of fifty-one (51) employees. This crew performed softscape services, irrigation repairs, tree trimming, and other crucial landscaping tasks – maintaining standards of excellence throughout SAMLARC’s landscape. Over the next ten years, the crew was cut back to reduce financial burden and, today, is staffed at thirty (30) crew members. As the landscape continues to age and exceed its verdant life, it will require more intensive maintenance to meet SAMLARC’s expected landscaping standards. However, the reduced number of workers has directly impacted the vendors’ ability to uphold SAMLARC’s standards of landscaping, from routine pruning to full tree removal.
Within the landscape industry itself, labor and wage fluctuations changes are directly impacting service providers. As unemployment rates have declined and minimum wage has increased fewer individuals have chosen work in the landscape industry, leading to a labor shortage. The fundamental shortage in workers then creates a hyper-competitive market for employers. In order to attract and retain a consistent pool of workers, a company must offer better wages and incentives than their competitors (simultaneously raising wages for existing employees to maintain morale). The increased costs associated with this industry tension are then passed on to the company’s clients, such as SAMLARC.
Over time, the cumulative effects of the labor shortage, industry tension, and the age of the landscape itself has created an environment that will require substantial effort to re-align the landscape with the standards. At this time, the landscape does not meet standards of health and appearance. As the first step in restoring the community’s landscape, the Board of Directors moved to re-evaluate the methods of contracting and executing landscape services, creating a Landscape Contract Ad Hoc Committee in May of 2019. The Ad Hoc Committee worked closely with SAMLARC’s landscape consultant firm to revise the landscape service specifications. Rather than dividing the Association’s property by region, the new system divides the property into service areas (such as parks, streetscapes, irrigation, and trees). The revision allows the Association to partner with service providers who specialize in these areas. The Committee then contacted eighteen (18) landscape service providers specializing in large homeowners associations in order to understand the levels of labor and funding that would be required to restore the landscape. The proposals confirmed the Committee’s understanding that proper stewardship of the Association’s landscape assets requires a larger landscape services budget.
In 2020, the Board of Directors anticipates that landscape service will increase by $887,285. This amount is necessary to restore the landscape’s alignment with and maintain the expected standards, as well as investing in the ongoing health of the landscape. This amount also enables SAMLARC’s landscapers to conduct proactive landscape services including tree trimming and preventative maintenance on irrigation systems, which will reduce costs over time. Overall, the expanded allowance for landscaping reflects the Board’s belief that actively investing in the aesthetics of the community also protects and enhances SAMLARC’s property values.
SAMLARC and service providers will begin planning the 2020 landscape service plan in fall of this year, with milestones to be achieved in each quarter. The Board of Directors looks forward to renewing the health of the SAMLARC’s landscape, preserving the beauty of this unique community.
SAMLARC’s specific and primary purpose is to provide community services and facilities for the benefit of homeowners within the community and preserve the value, desirability, and attractiveness of all properties within SAMLARC. The Board of Directors is committed to upholding this purpose and appropriately balancing the Association’s needs and resources. This article is part of a series on anticipated external impacts that will affect SAMLARC in 2019 and beyond. Additional information and updates on these impacts is available at SAMLARC.org/impacts